Local COVID-19 testing lab opens at Bartlett Regional Hospital
A nearly year-long effort between the City and Borough of Juneau and Bartlett Regional Hospital to bring local mass COVID-19 testing to Juneau reached a milestone this week. BRH’s new lab featuring a Roche Cobas 6800 Analyzer that can process COVID-19 tests went live on Tuesday, February 23. Rather than sending COVID-19 tests out of town, the lab is currently processing BRH employee, dental, and local pre-procedural outpatient surgery tests collected at the Capital City Fire Rescue drive-thru testing facility. Symptomatic tests done at the drive-thru testing facility are still being diagnosed out of town, but will switch to the BRH lab in early March.
The Roche Analyzer can run 1,200 tests per day with an up to 24-hour turnaround time. For the time being, the lab anticipates analyzing about 40 per day. The amount of testing that can currently be done is limited by the supply of reagent chemicals to run tests for the virus. The goal is to soon expand up to 100+ tests per day or about 940 tests per week.
“We are looking to increase testing,” said Lab Director John Fortin. “The more testing we can do in the community as a whole, the more cost effective.”
Fortin and Lead Clinical Laboratory Scientist Robin Marks answered U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s questions about the newly built and installed BRH molecular lab at her visit on Tuesday, February 16. The senator expressed interest in how the federal government might help with long-term financial assistance. According to Fortin, operating costs of the reference lab could run into thousands of dollars per week.
The goal is to use as many local supply vendors as possible. Test collection kits are being produced and purchased through Admiralty Environmental.
As BRH firms up its processes, the lab may also support testing of legislators in town for session, and may open to other entities. BRH will continue to use the Cepheid analyzer for smaller batches of in-house tests from i.e. the Emergency Department or Obstetrics.