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The special delivery behind testing samples

covid-19 news
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Of the many numbers associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, one has thus far driven under the radar – 25,684.

That’s the number of miles Virginia Tech Fleet Services logged transporting roughly 50,000 samples to Roanoke to be tested for COVID-19 from July 27, 2020, through March 23, 2021. And they continue to rack up those miles today, making two round-trips a day in university-issued Chevy Impalas as a critical component of the university’s effort to limit risk.

“We generally provide a result in 24 hours or less,” said Hal Irvin, the associate vice president for health sciences and technology outreach for the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. “With 3,000 to 4,000 samples received each week from campus, we couldn’t succeed without the incredible service and timely delivery from the Fleet Services team.”

The twice-daily runs up and down Interstate 81 began during the summer months of 2020 and also helped fill the pandemic-related void in Fleet Services normal workload.

“Business was down, people really weren’t traveling at that point,” said Nick Quint, interim fleet services manager. “So, we had the capacity, and the timing just really worked out.”

Today, the team continues the deliveries, making one around noon and the other at the end of the workday.

“That way when their team [at the Molecular Diagnostics Lab] comes in early in the morning, they don’t have to wait for samples,” said Craig Strain, one of the drivers. “It’s really worked out for the best.”

The drivers budget about two-and-a-half hours for each delivery, which allows for the inevitable interstate delay, as well as occasional inclement weather.

“I’ve been in the snow trying to drive up the mountain where you’re going, oh, please, please, please make it,” Strain said.

Strain said it’d been rewarding to play such an important role and credited Jeri Baker, director of parking and transportation services, with finding innovative ways to keep the staff busy when their normal duties slowed down.

“We’ve been utilized really nicely through this whole COVID thing,” Strain said. “It’s good to be a part of it.”

Irvin said the drivers weren’t just a part of the testing process, but were a major factor in promoting the well-being of the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg during the pandemic.

“The sooner we provide a result, the sooner Virginia Tech students and employees know whether they have COVID or not and the better equipped our campus health professionals are able to provide needed support,” Irvin said. “Dependable transportation and professional personnel bringing us the samples have been critical to our turnaround time for results.”

He said Fleet Services’ willingness and flexibility to do what was needed to support the health and safety of students and employees illustrated their clear dedication to serving the university.

“They have always focused on how they could best serve our mission,” Irvin said. “It goes to show how every role is important – from the Virginia Tech students and employees who show up for testing, to the employees who collect the samples, to the drivers who bring them, and the lab personnel who analyze them and deliver the results – in Virginia Tech’s COVID testing program.”

Story by Travis Williams