Two representatives from OU Medicine hosted a livestream interview to discuss COVID-19 testing and a shortage of supplies Tuesday.
The interview was with Michael Talbert, professor and chairman of the Department of Pathology and chief of Pathology Services and laboratory director for the OU Medical System, and Cindy McCloskey, an assistant professor of pathology and director of Microbiology and Virology Laboratories for OU Medical Center.
McCloskey said the lab does have tests that produce results more quickly than people would think but that those tests are mainly reserved for those that are being admitted to the hospital, and outpatient test results typically have a slower turnaround time.
“We need to know what their diagnosis is so that we can take the best care of them and also so that we can keep our employees safe,” McCloskey said.
McCloskey also said the lab experienced a large uptick in the number of tests they process in comparison to a busy flu season. McCloskey said the lab would normally encounter approximately 650 respiratory virus tests per week, but he said now with COVID-19, they are seeing approximately 1,200 to 1,300 per day.
McCloskey said the situation has taken “significant investment and support.”
Talbert said the lab will continue to increase testing.
“I think that the general consensus is that we’re (going to) be living with (COVID-19) for at least a while, and I think additional testing will be needed — certainly for the foreseeable future,” Talbert said.
While most may be familiar with the traditional nasal swab, McCloskey said the lab has the ability to test multiple forms of specimens like oropharyngeal swabs and nasal collection but primarily deals with the traditional nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs.
McCloskey said oropharyngeal swabs are similar to a test you may receive for strep throat, and nasal collection tests can be administered by the patient while observed by a healthcare worker. These tests are primarily used in community-based screening testing and require less use of personal protective equipment.
McCloskey also said labs everywhere are still dealing with a shortage of testing supplies that are available, but that OU Medicine has worked in conjunction with the OU Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation to develop their own Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19, which has received emergency-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
“That has been a really, really exciting opportunity to collaborate across the institution and with other resources in the community,” McCloskey said.
McCloskey also said this coming flu season will pose a challenge to the supply shortage but that it could result in fewer flu cases and more flu vaccinations.
“If we still have masking guidelines in place at that time, we might be pleasantly surprised and see less influenza,” McCloskey said.
McCloskey also said manufacturers are starting to anticipate flu season and said they could be able to test for both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, but that it is “a very tricky balance.”
Talbert said they also have an emergency-use authorized antibody test available and anticipates having another antibody test available “within the next several weeks.”
Talbert also said they are anticipating the arrival of new equipment in the lab and praised the employees who are working there.
“We have such a high degree of ‘get it done’ sense across the laboratory,” Talbert said.
Talbert also reflected on the collaborative work across campuses and with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
“(It’s) this amazing sense of Oklahomans coming together to take care of Oklahomans,” Talbert said.