Augusta University lab increases COVID-19 testing capacity


Augusta University received money from the Georgia COVID-19 Task Force ramp up testing as well as additional testing equipment from researchers across the state.

The Georgia Esoteric and Molecular Lab at The Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University can now process 500 samples a day, which is a sharp increase from the 72 samples a day they were processing.

Dr. Ravindra Kolhe is the GEM Lab director and vice chair for translational research of the MCG Department of Pathology at Augusta University. Dr. Kolhe says when they started COVID-19 testing in the lab, they with the instruments they already had, but now they have switched to higher capacity instruments.

“[With] the previous instrument, we could only test 6 samples at a time,” Dr. Kolhe explains. “Here, even though it takes longer, the number of samples we could test is 92 samples at one given time.”

The instruments were donated researchers across the institution and from Georgia Tech as well.

“We received 2 instruments from Georgia Tech and 4 instruments from within the Augusta University Medical college of Georgia. That has significantly helped us to ramp up the number of cases we could do in a day,” Dr. Kolhe says.

Gathering supplies for the test is still a challenge. Dr. Kolhe and his team are working with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) to get what they need.

“They have promised a significant number of kits for us to go ahead in the next 30, 60 and 90 days,” Dr. Kolhe says.

Factories across the U.S. are putting what they normally make on hold so that they can manufacture coronavirus- related supplies.

“Not just for the test, but all other supplies we need. the PPE and N95 masks,” Dr. Kolhe points out.

The GEM lab is processing COVID-19 tests for other Augusta hospitals and hospitals throughout the region.

“We get a courier by plane pretty much every other day or every day from Tifton,” Dr. Kolhe says. “There are hospitals in the city we are testing. There are expanded regions like Savannah. Mostly where the couriers can be sent out within a day.”

Dr. Kolhe is working with the Georgia COVID-19 task force now on the logistics and soon they will process tests for others from across the state.

“Our capacity at this moment is 500 tests within a given time frame. As new instruments come in, I think we should be able to ramp up the capacity to 1,000 tests a day,” Dr. Kolhe says.

The work is non-stop for Dr. Kolhe and his team, but he says no one complains despite the risk.

“I know there are some [lab] techs who go home and have self-quarantined so their family is not exposed to them,” Dr. Kolhe says. “Even when I go home, before I hug my kids, I take a shower, I get a change of clothes and things like that because hospitals unfortunately are a big source of getting the virus. Especially when we test hundreds of these samples on any given day.”

Photojournalist Gary Hipps

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