UVA Health develops its own COVID-19 test

uva healthUVA Health is now administering its own COVID-19 tests, due to efforts from the UVA Health Laboratory led by Dr. Mendy Poulter and Dr. Amy Mathers.

The response came as the UVA Health System started to hit a wall in the form of severe national shortages of critical reagents needed for the tests, according to a UVA news release.

A call went out to research labs in the Health System and across the University to find needed reagents and technology. It was answered by an immediate outpouring of donations that enabled UVA Health to develop its own testing and deploy it much sooner than having to wait on commercial supply chains.

Testing began on Wednesday.

“This was truly a remarkable team effort across the entire institution at an incredibly challenging time,” Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. K. Craig Kent said. “It was amazing to see how swiftly everyone rose to the challenge and made this happen in order to serve the community during this time of need. As someone new to UVA Health, I’m extremely proud of our team and thankful for the support across the University.”

“Across everything else that was happening, a very deliberate decision was made by leadership to make this a top priority,” said Dr. Arturo Saveedra, chief of ambulatory strategy and operations and chair of the Department of Dermatology.

“Often we live in lines of reporting structure in complex institutions, and this is probably the first time I’ve noticed a real matrix where people were less concerned with chain of command and more concerned with getting things done for a real common goal,” Saveedra said. “We stopped thinking about being doctors or nurses or IT people or secretaries or researchers and we actually just became citizens of the Health System to just get it done.”

The increase in area testing as a result of the development of the tests is likely to result in a spike in the number of positive cases in the coming days. A major limitation of understanding the spread of the virus to date has been the lack of available testing.

UVA is now one of the few institutions across the country that has engineered its own test so that the diagnosis can be more readily made.

UVA’s experts say they expect to have sufficient testing capacity to support all inpatient testing at UVA Hospital and all UVA clinics. For the immediate future, testing will be performed on patients with signs, symptoms and histories deemed by health care providers to be at high risk for COVID-19 infection.

The UVA labs are working hard to build on their success and ramp up to support broader community testing and are working with state and federal officials to obtain the resources needed to do so.

The Virginia Department of Health on Thursday announced three new positive cases in the Thomas Jefferson Health District, including a UVA student living off-Grounds in Albemarle County who is believed to have contracted the virus during recent international travel.

The student is receiving care and in isolation.

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