SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Staff at Memorial Health’s testing laboratory say a million-dollar instrument — buried deep inside its corridors — is nothing new. They have used it countless times to test for the flu, among other things.
What is new, however, is the ability to use the machine to test for coronavirus. Memorial Health was given 300 test kits late last week.
“These are going to be samples deep in the nose in what we call the nasopharynx,” explained Dr. Stephen Thacker, Memorial Health’s Associate Chief Medical Officer. “A swab will help get some of the mucus and the cells that are back there to see if we can find some of the genetic material from the virus.”
Dr. Thacker says the process is similar to a commercial test you can get right now at a drive through site. At Memorial Health, the process is expedited because each step is done inside the laboratory. On average, it takes 45-60 minutes.
Typically, test results are delayed because samples need to be transported to a laboratory with relevant equipment.
Doctors at Memorial Health are focusing their attention on testing patients who are hospitalized and symptomatic. Dr. Thacker says they will also test healthcare workers who may have been exposed.
He says knowing who has the virus can conserve important supplies and materials that will be needed as the pandemic continues.
“We’re not using personal protective equipment to protect us against someone that doesn’t have the disease. It also gives closure and reassurance to families and patients on whether or not they have this infection,” said Dr. Thacker.
So far this week, doctors say they have screened more than 115 people. 25 tests came back positive. There are about 250 tests left. More tests will be delivered every week.
Staff say test kits have been around for a while. Until now, they were given to hospitals in areas with surging numbers.
“We like to call ourselves ninjas,” said Jennifer White, Memorial Health’s laboratory services director. “We go around and we’re not seen by many people. But without us, you can’t continue with patient care. Without us providing results, the physicians are unable to properly diagnose.”
Memorial Health says testing will also prevent doctors from isolating patients that do not need to be. That will save doctors critical space and materials.