FSU’s COVID-19 test lab opens, ramping up

Florida State officials have raced against the clock since early in the summer, seeking to assemble a COVID-19 testing lab at Innovation Park. The facility, just a few miles south of the main campus, opened three weeks ago, said FSU Vice President for Research Dr. Gary Ostrander.

“We’re up, we’re running,” Ostrander told the Osceola on Monday. “We’ve been in a soft, quiet phase. We probably ran 1,000 samples last week. We’re going to ramp up to 1,000 per day. That’s the target.”

The goal is to ramp up because classes at FSU begin on Aug. 24. It’s not clear how many students will return to campus – whether it’s for in-person classes, online classes or a hybrid model. An FSU spokesperson said the registrar is reporting that 36 percent of fall semester classes will be offered face-to-face and residence halls are at 69 percent capacity (both numbers as of Monday afternoon). But the intention is to be ready to handle tests for FSU’s students, professors and employees. The lab at Innovation Park has also handled the testing for FSU’s athletes, coaches and support staff since it opened.

Ostrander has consistently outlined a turnaround time of 8-24 hours for the nasal-swab test. He feels that is a fair guideline, especially considering the desire to communicate with anyone who tests positive by phone and offer further guidance.

“It’s one thing to get it out of the lab in 8-24 hours, it’s another to have a conversation with the person,” Ostrander said. “We’ve seen some situations where we’ve reported results on Friday and people still aren’t picking up their phones or messages on Sunday. That’s kind of a problem, if people aren’t making it easy for us to contact them. If the results are positive, then the intent of the College of Medicine is to talk to a person and not just send them an email.”

The FSU-TMH partnership has been a valuable one, Ostrander said. It was critical, Ostrander said, that FSU be able to handle the collection of swabs as well as provide testing with an on-campus facility. He thinks FSU’s on-campus lab is the only one created in large part by a college in the Southeast, mentioning that Oklahoma State has also started a lab.

Ostrander didn’t have data to support the accuracy of tests done at FSU’s lab but the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test has been widely viewed by doctors as the gold standard.

“There are antibody tests, there are antigen tests and there are PCR-based tests,” Ostrander said. “It is absolutely recognized across the field that the PCR-based tests are the most accurate, they are the most sensitive, they are the most complicated, they are very, very sophisticated tests. That’s what we set out to develop.”

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