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The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State announces the opening of a temporary lab for COVID-19 sample testing

Fresno State President Dr. Joseph I. Castro announces the new temporary COVID-19 public lab as part of a partnership with Fresno county in front of the Jordan Agricultural Research Center on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. (Larry Valenzuela/ The Collegian)

Fresno State will open a temporary lab on campus to process COVID-19 tests for the Fresno County Department of Public Health (FCDPH) to reduce turnaround time.

In a press conference held today, Fresno State President Dr. Joseph I. Castro announced that the lab in the Jordan Agricultural Research Center will be used to conduct biological testing on swab specimens, but will not collect swabs from patients on site.

According to Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County’s interim health officer, they’re hoping to test 40-60 samples a day, but they’re hoping to ramp up the capacity even more than that. 

“Currently there’s a team of five technicians that we’ll be working together [with]. We have a lab director who is overseeing and has been part of the planning process from the very beginning but really the technicians will do every aspect of the testing as soon as the kits arrive,” Vohra said. “They have to do some initial processing and the actual PCR machine requires some very advanced technical expertise, which we’re able to provide because one of our technicians has a lot of expertise in doing the PCR method.”

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the COVID-19 RT-PCR test is a real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) test for the detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2 in upper and lower respiratory specimens collected from individuals suspected of COVID-19. 

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the virus that causes the disease known as COVID-19. The technicians will look for the identification of SARS-CoV-2 RNA, which is generally detectable in respiratory specimens during the acute phase of infection, according to the FDA. 

Vohra said there isn’t a good duration or time frame for how long the facility will remain open, but 90 days is an average of what the public health department is estimating. He added that hopefully this is the start of a longer term collaboration between Fresno State and FCDPH.

Vohra said the challenge has been that local labs were sending specimens out of the county to get them tested, which is leading to an unacceptably high turnaround time. 

“The testing kits currently were being sent out of the county, sometimes as close as Tulare, sometimes as far away as the Richmond lab, which is the state lab,” Vohra said. “We’re also working with several private companies, such as Quest [Diagnostics] and Abcore to get our samples run through them.”

According to Vohra, without the lab, test results for COVID-19 come back to the department at best in three days to greater than six days depending on supply issues at other labs. Vohra said they’re hoping that with less than a day of result time there that they can actually get someone an answer within that same day or less than 24 hours. 

The lab will be working with clinical sites around Fresno County in order to get specimens and get people to submit swabs. Vohra said there’s at least a dozen different sites in the county, but they’re working to expand testing capacity.

Fresno County District 4 Supervisor Buddy Mendes was also in attendance, and said that he had been talking to Dave Pomaville, the director of Fresno County’s public health department, about a possible replacement to the Fresno County lab.

Mendes said the lab was flooded in 2018 and equipment was damaged, but a new lab is quickly being built. They needed quick turnaround on samples in the meantime, so the ability to use this lab is great.

As early as later this week, Vohra said they’ll be doing some quality-checks to make sure all of the machines in the lab are working in line with the FDA standards.

The checks are to see that all tests are working well. 

Once that’s done, they’ll be able to add in this laboratory as part of the overall network of laboratories within the public health system as well as within the medical care system.

According to the latest report from Fresno County, 251 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and the department has tracked more than 3,200 test results. Fifty-three people have recovered and seven residents from the county have died.

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