Virginia Tech COVID-19 lab ready to test thousands of student samples

Posted at 10:12 PM, Aug 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-14 07:34:15-04

ROANOKE, Va. - Virginia Tech students will be returning to campus starting Friday, August 14, and they’ll already be required to take a test - a COVID-19 test.

Inside Virginia Tech’s COVID-19 Lab, researchers are ready to process at least 1,000 samples a day from students.

The Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory is at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia Tech’s Health Sciences campus. The turnaround time for results is less than 24 hours.

Michael Friedlander is the executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech. He said the testing capacity has played a significant role in opening the campus.

“It’s absolutely essential that we have very aggressive testing,” Friedlander said.

The idea for the state-of-the-art lab came at the height of the pandemic in March in response to the explosion of COVID-19 cases.

The university’s COVID-19 Lab opened at the end of April on both Blacksburg and Roanoke campuses. Just a few weeks ago, operations were consolidated into one lab in Roanoke.

“When it became clear that both the CDC and our state were way behind in the ability to keep up and provide accurate and reliable testing, a group of folks here got together and said, 'We‘ve got to set up our own lab. We’ve got to do something,'" said Friedlander.

Testing for on-campus students will take place as they move in from August 14-23.

The roughly 9,000 students living on the main campus in Blacksburg will be required to take a COVID-19 test or will have to find a new place to live.

The free testing will be available to students living off-campus as well but will be voluntary.

“No place is immune; no place,” said Friedlander. “You can’t run; you can’t hide. We’re all potentially exposed. All the mitigating strategies everybody is using like wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands are incredibly important, but only works if you know when somebody is ill or somebody has been exposed.”

Virginia Tech’s PCR molecular diagnostic test uses a less intrusive approach and collects the sample from the middle of the nose through a swab.

“It’s the highest quality,” Friedlander said. “It really is the gold standard test.”

The measures are meant to help flatten the coronavirus curve on campus and surrounding communities. The lab has already processed hundreds of tests for regional health departments.

“We’re very fast; we’re very accurate, said Friedlander. “We’re cranking out 500 – 1,000 tests a day for them. We’re trying to help the entire community and surrounding region as well as the university.”

Testing at Virginia Tech could soon be even faster.

Researchers are waiting on final FDA approval for a new testing approach called pooling where samples are tested in batches, so more people can be tested quicker.

The university hopes to have final approval within a week.

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