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UPMC Says It’s Ready to Test for COVID-19

March 15th, 2020 by WCBC Radio

UPMC has developed a test for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — and will use this test to diagnose select, symptomatic cases. The health system plans to rapidly increase capacity at its central laboratory and, if there is a need, could test hundreds of patients per week in the near future, filling a critical gap before other commercial tests come online.

“Developing this test for a never-before-seen virus in the midst of a pandemic was a tremendous challenge, even for our academic medical center with its long history of such developments,” said Alan Wells, M.D., D.M.Sc., medical director of the UPMC Clinical Laboratories and Thomas Gill III Professor of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “But testing capabilities are absolutely essential to managing a pandemic. If the communities we serve see a surge in severe illnesses, we must be able to diagnose people quickly to give them the appropriate care while protecting our staff and the broader community.”

Additionally, UPMC on Tuesday will begin directing patients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to a specimen collection site in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. The site is not open to the general public. Patients must have a physician referral approved by UPMC’s infection prevention team and an appointment to have their specimen collected for testing by either UPMC or public health authorities.

UPMC will later open additional specimen collection facilities in Harrisburg, Erie, Williamsport and Altoona at an as-yet undetermined date after gaining experience with the South Side facility and after UPMC’s testing capacity increases. “

Testing capabilities for COVID-19 in the U.S. have been delayed and limited, creating anxiety for the people we serve and impairing our ability to optimally guide the public health response,” said Donald Yealy, M.D., chair of emergency medicine for UPMC and Pitt. “By creating our own test and collection centers, we can both help our patients and the overall community. We seek getting a diagnosis in hours, not days.” The U.S. lagged behind other countries in testing capacity, which was centered around public health authorities. The tests created by commercial laboratories are either not serving the Pittsburgh region or can take longer for results, according to Wells.

Trained UPMC providers will collect specimens, doing so safely while wearing personal protective equipment, including gowns, gloves and N95 masks or respirators. Collection will occur in negative pressure rooms, which assure that air does not leave the room until it flows through a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter that removes pathogens. The process involves a “nasopharyngeal” swab, a thin device inserted through a patient’s nose into the nasal cavity.

The specimens will be safely transported for testing to the UPMC Clinical Laboratories, the largest academic clinical lab in the U.S. In most cases, results will be returned within 24 hours. UPMC may continue to send specimens to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s laboratory in eastern Pennsylvania or health department laboratories in New York and Maryland as needed and for confirmation. UPMC will work with commercial laboratories to send specimens to them as soon as they have capacity, which will maximize the health system’s ability to test all who need it.

UPMC’s laboratory developed test was created using reagents already approved for making a SARS-CoV-2 test and following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. It is validated under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments program of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for use in human diagnoses. The test was created by a virology team led by Tung Phan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology at Pitt and assistant director of clinical microbiology at UPMC; Charles Rinaldo, Jr., Ph.D., chair and professor of the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology and director of the UPMC Clinical Virology Laboratory; and Stephanie Mitchell, Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology at Pitt and director of clinical microbiology at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Implementation work was done by Arlene Bullotta, Barbara Harris and Kathy Greenawalt of the Section of Virology at UPMC Clinical Laboratories. “This was a tireless effort by a team dedicated to serving the needs of our patients,” said Wells.

The test was validated with genetic samples of SARS-CoV-2 shared by Paul Duprex, Ph.D., director of Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research, which is pursuing development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Anyone whose sample is taken should self-isolate until results come back. If it is positive, UPMC will refer the patient to public health authorities and ensure ongoing care. All positive UPMC test results will be “presumed” positive until confirmed by the CDC or state public health laboratories.

People who suspect they have COVID-19 but do not have a high fever or breathing problems should call their primary care physician or use UPMC AnywhereCare, an online tool to get advice. Anyone with a high fever or breathing trouble should go to their local emergency department for evaluation and care.

14 Responses to “UPMC Says It’s Ready to Test for COVID-19”

  1. March 15, 2020 at 5:31 am, Mark said:

    Due to Trump’s complete INCOMPETENCE a lot of people will now get sick and way too many will die. Just want to shout out a thanks to all you morons that voted for that ignorant freak.


  2. March 15, 2020 at 6:27 am, Ron said:

    I agree with you Mark.


    • March 15, 2020 at 6:51 am, FedUp said:

      100% AGREE.

      The amazing thing is his voter’s dont get that he only care’s about himself and at a lower level people who can afford memberships at his clubs and only as long as they can pay or do something for him.


  3. March 15, 2020 at 8:31 am, Gary said:

    You are not only brave mentioning this on a pro Trump site but you are 100 % spot on about this. Anyone who supports this idiot is like him


    • March 15, 2020 at 10:49 am, mac said:

      > It should be obvious by now that even here in, so-called, Republican Trump territory that people are finally starting to understand what’s been going on for a long time now.
      Trump’s regime is a revolving door of sycophants who keep their jobs by kissing the POTUS ass. If your not playing along you’re out the door.
      He’s been handling this virus the way he has handled all of his problems, first by ignoring and underplaying it’s severity and finally knuckling under while reminding us of what a stable genius he is.
      Thank God Almighty the Lord of the universe that this nightmare will finally be ending come election time.


  4. March 15, 2020 at 8:58 am, jim said:

    Overblown nonsense due to a minor illness. All of you likely bought excessive amounts of toilet paper. Idiot sheep.


  5. March 15, 2020 at 9:12 am, Ron said:

    If you believe its overblown and hype are you ignoring cdc and who?


  6. March 15, 2020 at 9:23 am, jim said:

    No, in fact I totally believe them. Both have stated that most people will show mild symptoms if any at all.


    • March 17, 2020 at 9:51 am, Ken said:

      > jim said:

      “No, in fact I totally believe them. Both have stated that most people will show mild symptoms if any at all.”

      Then let’s look at Jim’s numbers, shall we?

      The US has 320 million people in our borders, give or take a few. Let’s assume that only 50% of our people become infected – that’s 160 million Americans. Now let’s suggest that only 3% need to be hospitalized. That’s roughly 5 million infected patients.

      Now ask yourself, how many open hospital beds do we have on average? Do you believe that hospitals have 10% of their beds unused at any given time? 3%? Even 1%?

      So at what point do those five million people fill up every available hospital bed and displacing those who have the typical need to be there?

      The answer is – it depends on how fast this virus spreads.

      Now Jim, should we just believe like you do that this isn’t a problem or should we maybe be a bit more careful with who we interact with?

      Keep safe people, what we do directly impacts how this will turn out.


  7. March 15, 2020 at 9:27 am, jim said:

    btw I would not trust this hospital to treat a paper cut. Now they are developing new diagnostic testing? That’s rich.


  8. March 15, 2020 at 9:29 am, Ron said:

    Good.while it may be true that most cases will be mild. We as a community should be doing all we can to protect the vulnerable


  9. March 15, 2020 at 10:22 am, Jeff said:

    I tried to read this article as carefully as possible. What I thought I read was the UPMC will test in Pittsburgh. Anyone willing to go there?


    • March 17, 2020 at 9:55 am, Ken said:

      >Jeff said: “I tried to read this article as carefully as possible. What I thought I read was the UPMC will test in Pittsburgh. Anyone willing to go there?”

      Initially the UPMC will test only in their backyard. Like it or not, there are not enough test kits to go around. In fact, to manufacture enough of these things to test at the level the Chinese did will take months – best case scenario.

      This is why it appears the Us has such a low infection rate – the public is not being tested. We have no clear understanding of how many people are infected (read contagious) nor how fast this disease is spreading.


  10. March 15, 2020 at 1:34 pm, Ron said:

    Amen mac.


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