08:16 AM

Ohio State to begin processing COVID-19 tests on campus

Lab will make testing results available more quickly and save millions

The Ohio State University this fall will begin operating its own laboratory to process COVID-19 tests taken by asymptomatic students, faculty and staff on campus, a move that will likely save the university millions of dollars and make test results more quickly available.

The switch to an on-campus lab will also make the on-campus testing process more efficient.

The university explained the new system in an email to students today.

“We’re going to be able to increase our capacity and capabilities at a significantly lower cost,” said Christy Bertolo, who is part of Ohio State’s COVID-19 implementation team and who manages the university’s relationship with an external company for testing.

Ohio State will be able to lower the cost per test by around 85 percent by running the tests on campus. Test results through the private company typically are available within 48 to 72 hours after a person is tested; the on-campus lab will allow that time frame to shrink to about 24 to 48 hours.

The university has conducted more than 120,000 tests since reopening campus in August in an effort to monitor for asymptomatic spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Students who live on campus, as well as some off-campus students, faculty and staff, are tested weekly at Jesse Owens North, a recreation center on Neil Avenue on campus.

Ohio State to this point has contracted with Vault Health, a company that manages large-scale and home testing for the virus using saliva. Vault has partnered with a biologics company at Rutgers University. That company, RUCDR Infinite Biologics, received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this past spring for the first saliva-based COVID-19 test.

The university used money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to pay that contract.

“Working with Vault from the beginning allowed us to really understand what we needed to set up to do this on our own,” Bertolo said. “Being able to do the volume of tests we have done with Vault really set us up to be successful in making this transition. And we will still be utilizing them as we build capacity with our lab.”

The contract with Vault made way for the kind of large-scale testing that allowed the campus to re-open, but also meant that saliva samples traveled from Columbus to New Jersey each day for diagnostic testing. Bertolo said the plan for on-campus COVID-19 tests always included a laboratory on Ohio State’s campus to evaluate the samples. The university, though, had to build the necessary infrastructure and create processes to ensure a seamless transition between testing strategies.

The Ohio State COVID-19 tests will be run at the Applied Microbiology Services Lab on campus. That testing process also needs less saliva than does the New Jersey lab, meaning people will likely move through the testing process more quickly at Jesse Owens North. The current testing time is about 15 minutes per person.

Students and others who are tested at Jesse Owens North will need to create an account in Ohio State MyChart, the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center patient portal. Once all diagnostics move to the on-campus lab, COVID-19 tests will be scheduled and results will be available through MyChart.

The university plans to begin phasing in diagnostics at the on-campus lab this month, and to run all on-campus tests through the lab beginning in January, at the start of spring semester. More information is available on Ohio State’s Safe and Healthy Buckeyes site.

Running COVID-19 tests entirely on campus involved nearly the entire Ohio State campus community, including the Wexner Medical Center, Office of Student Life, College of Public Health, IT departments from both the main campus and the medical center, administration and planning, athletics event planners and student employees.

“That collaboration is allowing us to get this done, and to get it done quickly,” Bertolo said. “And being able to activate all those pieces of the university has made it possible to have students on campus safely.”

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