COVID Lab, Cowboy Spirit
Innovative partnership creates
As university leaders considered how to best use its resources to 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 the OSU Diagnostic Laboratory, part of the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory on the Stillwater campus. The partnership with OSU Medicine meant the lab could transition to performing both animal and human testing.
Dr. Kenneth Sewell, OSU vice president for research, said the collaboration and can-do spirit that created the lab 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.
One obstacle was having enough personnel to support the lab’s new mission. On March 27, Sewell’s office sent out a campus-wide survey looking for individuals who were interested in working in the lab. In less than two hours, more than 150 people replied, the majority with lab experience.
A team of logistical volunteers was also created to support the lab in its new mission. The team put systems and processes into place to support a sustainable operation of the lab, allowing the lab personnel to focus on testing samples.
Just twelve days after the decision was made to set up the COVID-19 lab, OSU technicians processed the first 53 specimens. That number grew to more than 40,000 samples processed in less than two months and eclipsed 220,000 samples by April 2021.
The lab is providing answers for sick patients and exhausted health care providers, with results being returned quickly, many within 24-48 hours. More importantly, the lab has the potential to impact the trajectory of the disease in Oklahoma, making a difference that will be 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.”