MUSC Health churning out 850 coronavirus test results each day

VIDEO: Behind the scenes look at MUSC lab testing

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - MUSC Health is first hospital and medical center in the state to do its own COVID-19 testing.

A behind-the-scenes tour of COVID-19 testing showed a tightly regulated process that churns out about 850 test results each day.

Dr. Frederick Nolte, who serves as vice chairman for the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and medical director for both clinical laboratories and the molecular pathology lab, said the testing process is highly complex.

“There are a lot of moving parts. Specialty expertise is required to pull this off successfully," he said.

That expertise was on display on a tour that began in an area marked “Laboratory Central Receiving.” It’s where thousands of nasal samples collected for testing arrive via courier, FedEx, and in the case of patients who are hospitalized at MUSC Health, an internal tube delivery system.

At least a dozen people, from medical technologists to pathologists, take it from there. In-house testing at MUSC Health is now running seven days a week to keep up with the demand for COVID-19 results. The testing requests come not only from MUSC Health but also multiple hospitals, medical centers and patients across the state.

Once the samples are received, they are logged into the system, prepared and then routed to the lab for nucleic acid extraction to determine whether they are infected with the coronavirus that causes the illness COVID-19.

“We have three analyzers and the analysis time is eight hours. We’re able to run those three analyzers in the lab for three different runs. So that’s nine runs of 96 samples a day is about what we’re comfortable generating now,” Nolte said. “We have a great team, everybody’s risen to the occasion.”

Nolte added it’s important the MUSC Health lab has multiple options for testing. That way, if one goes down, they have alternatives. He said, right now, they are in a pretty good position in terms of handling the volume of testing in the clinical labs.

To date, MUSC Health has tested more than 6,000 samples. 355 of those samples have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We’ve gotten tremendous support from the hospital administration,” Nolte said. “Basically, from the top down, they’ve said, ‘Just tell us what you need, and we’ll get it to you,’ and that’s happened.”

As the number of cases continues to increase, Nolte said it’s important to understand the percentage of patients that test positive.

“That has remained stable at about six percent,” Nolte said. “We test more people, we find more people are infected and the number of reported cases climb. But the encouraging part of it, from my perspective, is that we’ve seen no real increase in the percentage of patients who are testing positive.”

The lab leadership team is talking with MUSC researchers about using some of their equipment for testing if needed.

“We’ve identified the laboratory space, the instrumentation, the assay (test) that we’re going to use,” Nolte said. “That would be another pivot point for us, should we have to activate that part of the contingency.”

Copyright 2020 WCSC. All rights reserved.