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Aspirus moves to bring COVID-19 testing in-house at Wausau

Across the country, delays between the time a suspected COVID-19 patient is tested, and the time those test results are returned, have been causing frustration and difficulties in determining the most appropriate level of care.

In response, Aspirus has worked to independently establish in-house capabilities to overcome this challenge and offer COVID-19 testing to the entire community. In-house testing at Aspirus began April 3.

Testing is being performed at Aspirus Wausau Hospital (AWH) Reference Lab for Tier 1 and 2 cases: those hospitalized and critically ill, residents of long-term care facilities, symptomatic health care workers. Improved turnaround time helps quickly determination where patients would be best cared for while keeping others safe.

The drive to develop in-house testing at Aspirus was led by molecular technical specialist Kate Drewek. Typically, COVID-19 test kits come prepackaged. Drewek and the team in the lab sourced individual parts and pieces to assemble their own test kits and bring testing capabilities at Aspirus.

“Many other organizations that have developed tests have been able to do this with many PhD scientists on staff. They often are academic medical centers or have been involved in health-related research,” said Jesse Tischer, SVP and president regional markets–Aspirus. “As a community health system, Aspirus is fortunate to have Kate Drewek as a scientist, who was able to complete this hardcore work for us. She put in a lot of time and dedicated effort and has been able to bring the test to the community.”

COVID-19 testing is a manual process with turnaround time for an in-house test of three to four hours. Two batches of tests are processed each day at Aspirus, once in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Across the nation testing supplies are being allocated where the communities are hardest hit, and the numbers of patients are the largest.

“Previously, our area didn’t have the COVID-19 positive patients that were being cared for in or community” said Daniel Lockwood, Aspirus reference lab manger. “But that has changed, as we are more likely to have access to additional testing resources.”

Suspected COIVD-19 patients are tested twice to verify they are truly negative before being released from a specialized care unit. This helps to ensure the safety of other patients and healthcare staff.

Tiers 3 and 4 are still being sent to partner commercial reference laboratories, currently Mayo in Rochester, Minn. and typically are returned in three to four days. Adding testing for tier 3 and 4 locally would depend on an increased allocation of reagent or test kits to Aspirus.