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Priority COVID-19 Testing for Frontline Workers

Teams from both the private and public sectors are working together to ensure health care workers and others can be diagnosed quickly

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Rachel Muenz

Rachel Muenz is the managing editor of G2 Intelligence and was previously senior digital content editor at Lab Manager, a publication dedicated to teaching lab professionals the management skills...

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Published:Apr 15, 2020
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It’s now been well-established how critical diagnostic testing is for managing the spread of COVID-19. Though struggles with testing capacity in the early stages of the pandemic have meant challenges and frustrations in many countries, recent efforts to solve these issues are well underway.

While it’s important that as many people as possible are tested for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, it’s even more crucial that health care workers and first responders get access to such tests as they are on the front lines.

Luckily, there are a number of initiatives from both public and private sectors to ensure these key workers have quick access to testing for COVID-19. For example, in the US, Rush University Medical Center is offering priority testing to Chicago’s police, fire, emergency medical services, and military personnel.

“We know our first responders face greater risk of coming into contact with the novel coronavirus by the nature of their work. We want to support our police, fire fighters, paramedics, and military personnel by ensuring they have access as quickly as possible to COVID-19 testing when they find they have any of the symptoms,” said Richa Gupta, senior vice president and chief operating officer, Rush University Medical Group at Rush University Medical Center, in a recent press release. “Doing so also will help protect the people they are serving and help slow the spread of the virus.”

Other universities that are helping boost COVID-19 diagnostic testing include Tulane University, Augusta University, and the University of Arizona. 

At Tulane, researchers are running tests in two different labs, one at the Tulane Medical Center involving partners from Louisiana State University and University Medical Center New Orleans, and another in a repurposed research lab at the university’s School of Medicine. The first can do up to 200 tests a day, while the second plans to run 100 each day, focusing on the university’s students, residents, staff, faculty, and health care providers, according to a press release. However, the School of Medicine lab plans to eventually double its capacity and offer testing to the wider community.

Related Article: Supply Shortages Continue to Hamper COVID-19 Testing

Similarly, the Georgia Esoteric and Molecular Laboratory at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia (MCG) Department of Pathology has been providing its new coronavirus test to health care providers and hospitals across the entire state as of Apr. 6, through various partnerships.

"We have found the support of our state and our colleagues equal to the demand for this test," said GEM Lab director Dr. Ravindra Kolhe in a recent release.

On Apr. 14, the University of Arizona announced in a press release that, with the help of $3.5 million in funding from the state, it will provide COVID-19 antibody tests to 250,000 of Arizona’s frontline workers. Those blood tests will not only help track exposure to SARS-CoV-2, but also identify people who have built an immunity to the virus, the statement explains.

"Determining whether a significant percentage of individuals have COVID-19 antibodies is critical to returning to regular social interaction," said Dr. Michael D. Dake, senior vice president for UArizona Health Sciences, in the release. "Through what we hope would eventually be a comprehensive testing program, the university and local health care facilities could begin working toward reestablishing fully operational learning and working environments."

On the commercial side, Northwell Health, New York State’s largest health care provider, also announced Apr. 14 that it will be giving frontline workers first access to “evaluation, care, and testing” at its 52 urgent care centers throughout Westchester, New York City, and Long Island. 

“Now more than ever, it’s important that we give those on the front lines fighting COVID-19 immediate access to any health care services they may need,” said Adam Boll, executive director of joint venture operations at Northwell, in a statement. “Ensuring that all health care providers and first responders get the evaluation, care, and testing they need, when they need it is the only way we all get through this crisis together.”

With more efforts to support diagnostic testing and frontline workers than can be mentioned here, labs and researchers interested in helping should reach out to health care centers in their communities.