Misericordia testing program could be model
From the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak in this country and this state about a year ago, the nation has constantly been unwilling or unable to mobilize sufficient people and resources to conduct testing sufficient enough to really keep track of the virus spread, and in turn to effectively contain it.
Even now, as we nationally conduct well over 1 million tests a day, experts warn it is insufficient, particularly in the wake of new variants that so far appear to be more contagious than the original.
In that light, news that Misericordia University has managed to expand on-campus testing dramatically thanks to a generous donation is not only a plus for the area but could serve as a model on how to really ramp up testing nationwide.
The school purchased new equipment that is being used to test about 25% of the university community each week, as well as to regularly test student athletes.
The process has been sped up and the cost was driven down by doing “batch testing,” combining saliva samples from five individuals into one small testing container.
All told, 70 people can be tested by the new equipment, with the samples processed and result determined in three hours or less.
This is not to be confused with diagnostic testing of individuals with suspected symptoms or other situations justifying concerns. This is “surveillance testing,” meant to keep tabs on the disease even in people with no symptoms.
If one of those batches of 5 samples shows a positive test, there is enough individual saliva samples left to run individual tests on all five to determine who sparked the positive result in the batch test.
And there’s no nose swab needed. Participants expectorate about a thimble-full of saliva into a sterile tube, put it in a plastic bat that can be sealed, and drop it into a cooler for transport to the testing facilities in the campus’s shiny, state-of-the-art Frank M. and Dorothea Henry Science Center.
The main goal is to find asymptomatic cases, which have been a serious part of the community spread problem all along. After all, when people feel symptoms they are likely to self-quarantine.
No symptoms means no knowledge of risk of spread and no impetus to isolate for 14 days.
Misericordia is only using the new capabilities for those on campus, but several people involved voiced expectation that, once everything is worked out, the new testing ability could be made available to other organizations and people.
If that happens, our area and our county could make tremendous strides in finally getting the upper hand in the pandemic war. We, through Misericordia, could even serve as archetype for similar testing expansion everywhere.
Special praise goes to Mark and Lorraine Alles of Harveys Lake for the donation of $300,000 used to purchase equipment and set the whole system in motion. In the midst of a pandemic that has cost so many lives, this seems like a true act of selfless concern for others.
The pandemic has upended lives for a year, and even with vaccines rolling out at higher and higher rates, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is likely to be reached at best this fall, probably much later.
The fight requires using all the tools in the box, and this could be one worth duplicating in other areas.