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Inside look at Nebraska's COVID-19 testing lab

An inside look at the CHI St. Elizabeth COVID-19 laboratory.
An inside look at the CHI St. Elizabeth COVID-19 laboratory.(KSNB)
Published: May. 28, 2020 at 7:41 PM CDT
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Through TestNebraska, COVID-19 tests have continued to become more available across the state, and have delivered faster results.

COVID-19 tests are collected from TestNebraska locations and are then delivered to CHI St. Elizabeth in Lincoln, where the results are determined in their laboratory.

The lab opened up about three weeks ago, and has been a huge boost in testing.

"As we pondered, 'Could we get this done and in a quick time frame and could we do it right?' I knew that we could," said CHI St. Elizabeth President Derek Vance. "We're putting our stamp on this and it has got to be done right."

It starts with the State Patrol, who brings all of the tests to the lab.

"Once each specimen is put into the system with a bar code scan, it's put into one of our several pipet stations and that's where the real work begins," said Vance. "It's a very manual process up front that gets all the specimens out, then the process becomes a bit more automated. It gets put on a number of robots and processed through."

The robots were funded by the state, and Vance says it's hard to imagine doing this process without them.

"This is kind of the next to the last stage in the process before we get the test results out. The time, the room for error, that's where the robotics really come into play here."

Although the robots make the process more efficient, it's still very important for the staff to make sure the numbers are still adding up.

"That is something we will keep an eye on throughout the process to make sure we don't have some kind of variance get entered into the process that throws things off," said Vance. "That's the human part that's important. That we watch these results and make sure we are continuing to get those high accuracy counts."

There are two things they really keep an eye on that tell them how accurate the results are.

"Sensitivity and specificity. Those are the accuracy pointers, and we are at 94 percent sensitivity and 95 percent specificity. Which are both very high rates of accuracy for a lab," said Vance. "Sensitivity is the ability to deliver a positive result on a test. Specificity is the ability to deliver a negative result on a test, and you have to have both of those."

The lab has been able to process the results of around 1,500 tests per day. Recently they have been able add to their staff, which is around 20-25 members who spend all of their time in the lab. That extra help is now going to make it possible to process the results of 3,000 tests per day.

"The staff have been great. Many of the staff are new, we had to hire additional staff. They've come in, they work all hours, they work all shifts. As you can see the pipeters working, it's very focused, disciplined work," said Vance.

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