Dr. Kenneth Sewell, Dean of Research at Oklahoma State University, stands inside a laboratory where patient samples are being analyzed for COVID-19 on the campus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla. (Photo: Business Wire)
As university leaders considered how its resources could serve the state, a partnership between the main Stillwater campus and OSU Medicine in Tulsa emerged. FDA-approved machines to run the test analysis for COVID-19 were identified at a lab on the Stillwater campus – which would address the state’s limited testing capacity. Historically a lab used for diagnosing diseases and detecting outbreaks in animals since 1975, the OSU Diagnostic Laboratory quickly earned CLIA certification to conduct human diagnostic testing.
Dr. Kenneth Sewell, OSU vice president for research, said the collaboration and can-do spirit has been impressive.
“We were fortunate that we had equipment already up and running that works with this particular test, and we had the ability to marshal forces during a stressful time,” he said. “We have a flexible mindset – when we have a problem to solve, we solve it,” he said.
Johnny Stephens, chief operating officer and senior vice president of OSU Medicine, is proud of the seamless partnership between the campuses.
“OSU’s research and medical campuses came together to activate a lab capable of testing more than 2,000 samples a day. We’re honored to help the entire state through our combined resources.”
Just twelve days after the decision was made to set up the COVID-19 lab, OSU technicians processed the first 53 specimens. Three days later, health care providers were submitting more than 1,000 specimens a day. Additional qualified lab personnel have been identified, many volunteering to serve from OSU research labs. Fully operational, the lab could analyze more than 2,000 specimens daily.
The lab is providing answers for sick patients and exhausted health care providers, with results being returned in 1-2 business days, most within 24 hours. More importantly, the lab could potentially impact the trajectory of the disease in Oklahoma, making a difference difficult to quantify.
“Increased testing will give public health officials a more accurate and realistic picture of COVID-19 in Oklahoma. Until now, the state has only had the capacity to deal with the situation on the level of the patient,” Sewell said. “We have to get to the next level of mapping the spread of the disease. That’s how you flatten the curve.”