Labs conquer many COVID-19 challenges

June 24, 2020
Amid the chaos and suffering SARS-CoV-2 unleashes as it infiltrates mega-metropolitan areas and rural hamlets alike, lab managers work diligently to ramp up testing to detect both active infections and the antibodies the body develops to fight off the disease.

We all know that testing is a frontline activity in the fight against the pandemic. Testing reveals people who have an active infection, allowing them to isolate and minimize community spread. It also shows providers which patients warrant careful follow-up and care. And in the aggregate, data from testing helps public health officials track the trajectory of the disease and develop public policy.

But for many laboratorians, the planning and execution of testing services has been frustrating and exhausting, as well as (sometimes) quietly rewarding.

As Medical Laboratory Observer has followed laboratorians efforts over the past six months to ramp up testing by overcoming daunting challenges, I have been inspired by the level of dedication MLO’s readers demonstrate for SARS-CoV-2 testing. They plow ahead every day at work even as the number of healthcare workers infected with and dying from SARS-CoV-2 increases continually, according to information tracked by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most recently, our readers have told us about their work helping patients by responding to MLO’s third State of the Industry Survey, focusing on COVID-19 testing, which we report on in this issue.

What we found is that lab managers have worked doggedly and creatively to source analyzers, testing kits, supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE), so they can test their community members for COVID-19. Despite those efforts, some have not been able to provide as much in-house testing as they would like, while others have not been able to launch a service at all.

Sourcing the components of a new testing service is just the beginning. In their survey responses, MLO readers also talked about efforts to refine workflows, train staff, modify laboratory information systems (LIS), and figure out how to break-even financially on testing.

Now, the next phase of this work begins. As the United States reopens its economy and residents venture outside in the warm summer sunshine, laboratorians and their peers throughout the healthcare delivery system wait to learn what this increased community activity portends for future COVID-19 caseloads. Experts say this is the time to refine current COVID-19 workflows to bring down the cost-per-test, source more supplies, and improve coding and billing.

And maybe take a few minutes to reflect on the state of the laboratory industry. As Sonya Engle, Chief Operating Officer at Sonora Quest Laboratories, told me while describing COVID-19 testing, “It is such an inspiring story of people who went into the laboratory business because they want to serve, and they care. Each person delivered in ways that are unprecedented.”

I welcome your comments, questions and opinions — please send them to me at [email protected].