UW Medicine: We’ve processed 400 tests for coronavirus so far — and can handle 1,000 a day

Coronavirus test lab
Lab workers process coronavirus test samples at UW Medicine’s virology lab. (UW Medicine Photo)

The University of Washington School of Medicine says its virology lab is now capable of performing 1,000 genetic tests for the COV-19 coronavirus every day — but all that capacity hasn’t yet fully come into play.

If the coronavirus outbreak ramps up as projected, UW Medicine’s coronavirus test pipeline will ramp up as well.

“We’ve performed a little more than 400 tests to date over this week,” Alex Greninger, assistant director of UW Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratories, explained in an email forwarded to GeekWire.  “We have much more capacity to perform tests than we are currently receiving.  We perform tests on the specimens we are sent.  Our current capacity in just over a thousand tests per day, and we are building out to perform 4,000 to 5,000 per day.”

Based on a survey of public health officials conducted by The Atlantic, that anticipated daily throughput is more than double the number of tests that have been conducted nationwide over the course of the past two months. The Atlantic reported that its tally came to 1,895 people tested for the coronavirus in the United States, about 10 percent of whom have tested positive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t released its own numbers on how many have been tested so far. Testing efforts had been hampered in the early stages of the U.S. outbreak because of problems with CDC test kits.

Those problems led the Food and Drug Administration to give the go-ahead for selected labs to come up with their own tests. UW Medicine began using its RNA-based test on patient samples on Tuesday.

During Thursday’s quick visit to Washington state, Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged that “we still have a ways to go” when it comes to providing enough test kits to meet the anticipated demand. But he promised that enough kits to test more than a million patients would be distributed by the end of next week.

Does that mean UW Medicine’s 24/7 testing operation will become unnecessary? Absolutely not, Greninger said.

“Nothing obviates the need for any test. Other laboratories will be able to offer testing based on the FDA’s guidance and availability of testing kits. It does take time to determine assay performance and validate the test, and then take care of the logistical issues to receive all the specimens and result them out,” Greninger said in his email.

“The U.S. is in a better place than it was last week,” he said, “but we need to catch up to this virus.”

Patients cannot refer themselves for testing with UW Medicine’s lab procedure — the test is available only through physicians and healthcare providers. UW Medicine cautions that all results are considered presumptive, and should not be the sole basis for decisions on managing a patient’s condition.

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