JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The University of Mississippi Medical Center began performing in-house testing for COVID-19 Thursday.
The Medical Center’s pathology laboratory has finished validating its ability to use a commercially available kit to test for the novel coronavirus, said Dr. Timothy Allen, professor and chair of the Department of Pathology.
“The pathology laboratory team has done a phenomenal job under great pressure. It typically takes about four months to do what they did in two weeks,” Allen said.
At full capacity, UMMC said this method can deliver tests results for 180 people daily, run in two 90-test batches that take about eight hours each. Previously, UMMC sent its testing to the Mississippi State Department of Health.
UMMC is also working to bring a second commercial test to its labs as well as creating its own Laboratory Developed Test for COVID-19 based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocol. If all three options become available, UMMC could process as many as 700 samples per day.
“There has been a lot of concern about a national shortage of COVID-19 tests,” said Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research. “We’re looking at using a variety of approaches to testing, including tests that could run on our own platforms or use methods developed by commercial laboratories.”
Doctors said the hardest supply to acquire is nasal swabs to collect samples from those potentially infected with COVID-19. It’s also been difficult to purchase viral transport media, which preserves the sample until it arrives in the laboratory.
In response to the demand for testing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has changed some of its standards for Laboratory Developed Tests, or LDT, making it easier for institutions like UMMC to start independent testing.
Putting together enough tests to meet demand requires not only supplies, but labor. To meet that need, UMMC student volunteers are preparing test collection kits. The kits, which include swabs, media, collection tubes and plastic bags, will be used to help expand mobile collection sites.
Even as more hospitals start their own testing, not everyone who is screened may be able to receive a test. COVID-19 symptoms, which include fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath, are common among viral respiratory infections.