BayCare Expands COVID-19 Testing Capabilities at In-House Laboratories

April 24, 2020

Two months ago, no facility in Tampa Bay had the capacity to process tests for COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Now, just a few weeks later, BayCare’s network of laboratories have proved nimble and effective in expanding testing to handle hundreds of tests daily to help safeguard the community’s health across West Central Florida.

“As a leading health system in the region, we have an extensive laboratory network in the in-patient and outpatient settings,” said Jim Cote, senior vice president for Ambulatory Services at BayCare. “This capability has helped us transform and adapt in real-time to effectively respond to the coronavirus pandemic and provide adequate care to the community we serve.”

BayCare is processing COVID-19 test specimens through BayCare Laboratories. This is all happening at all in-hospital laboratories and the Esoteric Laboratory, an innovative and sophisticated molecular facility which functions as a reference point for the health system. These laboratories process hundreds of COVID-19 tests daily for the in-patient and outpatient populations.

“When we first began processing COVID-19 testing, we were administering a few dozen specimens for our hospital-based patients,” said Maura Pieretti, PhD, scientific director for BayCare Laboratories. “In just a few weeks, we’ve made significant changes adding new methodologies, instruments and platforms to allow us to expand capacity to process hundreds of tests quickly, safely and effectively every single day.”

As a result, BayCare is now processing all of its drive-thru testing at the Esoteric Laboratory. Patients can receive results in 24 to 36 hours, drastically reducing wait times that were previously provided through external private laboratories.

BayCare also provides access to rapid testing for COVID-19 patients, which is being processed at in-hospital laboratories across the system. The new option greatly reduces the time it takes hospitals to diagnose patients and inform treatment decisions.

“This type of rapid test is the gold standard for COVID-19 in the industry, and we’re thrilled to have this available for our in-patient population,” said Shadi Sepehri, PhD, microbiology director at BayCare Laboratories. “Through this, we’re able to process about 200 tests per day and provide results to patients within an hour.”

BayCare validated all COVID-19 tests to ensure their performance was acceptable and the results were accurate. All the tests performed at BayCare have been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).

BayCare Laboratories across the system follows testing standards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to safely collect, transport and process samples. BayCare, which collects nasopharyngeal and other samples from patients, has a high-skilled team of professionals who meticulously handle the specimen from start to finish.

“We have health care providers who collect the samples on site, and couriers who carefully deliver them to the designated laboratories,” said Pieretti. “Once the tests arrive, laboratory medical assistants log in the samples, take the tubes out of the biohazard bags, check for leaks and arrange them for processing. Then, medical technologists process the samples, conduct quality control, analyze the results and do the final reporting.”

During this process, the tests are handled safely and with proper care to protect the health of team members. When processing the tests, the teams wear proper protective gear including masks, gloves and gowns.

Without a vaccine or proven treatment for COVID-19, testing remains the public’s best defense in slowing the disease’s spread. Those who test positive are able to isolate themselves and prevent the virulent and contagious virus from infecting others. BayCare will continue to look for ways to expand capacity and testing access as resources become available.

“I could not be prouder of the entire laboratory team,” said Cote. “They have stepped to the forefront and have led the system through testing and improved community outcomes by getting the results quickly to our patients and our clinicians. They’ve worked around the clock to increase capacity, meet the demand and improve the quality of the testing.”

“This pandemic has brought to the forefront the clinical laboratories and the important work that we do,” said Pieretti. “Laboratories generate test results and data every day, but we often remain hidden. COVID-19 is demonstrating how vital laboratories are and the difference we make in patient care.”