Georgetown has created its own COVID-19 testing lab – with rapid results
The race for faster test results
Like many universities across the country, Georgetown transitioned to all virtual learning in the spring of 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also significantly reduced on-campus density by shifting to telecommuting where possible. Public health, medical and administrative officials at Georgetown have recognized the importance of establishing rapid COVID-19 testing if the university community is to safely restore in-person operations.
From June 2020 to mid-November 2020, external laboratories exclusively performed tests on university samples. The turnaround time for results ranged from three to seven days, with longer wait times occurring earlier in the pandemic. This moment was problematic: Georgetown needed faster results to protect the safety of its community members. Its leaders found a solution at the Georgetown Medical Center.
The agile hub of a Maryland lab
To gain more control over the testing process and turnaround times, Georgetown leaders leveraged the university’s only highly complex, CLIA-certified lab, a federal designation that allows diagnostic testing of human samples. – and asked them to dedicate lab time and space to COVID-19 testing. The lab, the CW Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program (CWBYP) in Rockville, is a high-complexity clinical laboratory that performs sophisticated blood type and genetic testing for bone marrow transplants. COVID-19 testing required similar skills and expertise.
Marc Fournier, vice president of ancillary services and real estate, initiated this process and coordinated with university teams and community health experts to respond.
“The changing landscape kept us on our toes, but luckily we had experts in just about every field in Georgetown,” he says. “It was like building an airplane as you fly it to a destination that keeps on moving. Science changes, behaviors change, and needs change. During it all, the entire team pivoted, aligned, and responded relentlessly. .
Planning for testing at the bone marrow transplant lab (known as BMT) began in earnest in July. As of November 2020, under the direction of Peter Luger in the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research, the BMT COVID-19 lab was up and running, using a test kit cleared for emergency use by the States Food and Drug Administration -United. After several weeks of validation testing, the university began processing COVID-19 samples from students, staff, and faculty on November 18, 2020.