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UPMC Develops COVID-19 Test

Ariel Worthy
90.5 WESA
UPMC's Dr. John Williams, holding up a nasal swab that will be used for COVID-19 testing.

UPMC doctors and scientists developed a test for COVID-19 that will return results in 24 hours. The test, which is conducted using a nasal swab, was created by a UPMC virology team. 

According to Dr. Alan Wells, the medical director of UPMC Clinical Laboratories, they will initially be able to test 20 patients a day, but expect to increase that to 100 a day by the end of next week, and eventually, hundreds a week if necessary. Beginning on Tuesday, UPMC will start directing patients with physician referrals to UPMC facilities on the South Side to receive the test. Appointments will be required.

Samples will be gathered via a nasal swab, and sent for testing to UPMC Clinical Laboratories, which will be able to return a result in 24 hours.

UPMC officials said they are considering adding drive-thru testing capabilities, but wanted to start with a facility that could safely conduct tests in all weather.

The increase in testing should help health departments make plans to slow the spread of the virus, said Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC’s chair of emergency medicine. “Testing capabilities in the United States were delayed and limited. It’s hard to craft an effective plan when we don’t know who has the infection and who doesn’t. By making our own test, we can relieve stress on our public health partners.”

"This is not UPMC competing against the world," Yealy said. "This is the world being very collaborative, sharing everything, sharing data, experiences.”

UPMC also sought to reassure the public that they could quickly ramp up treatment facilities if a severe outbreak occurs in the region. “We have been planning and preparing for years for something like this,” Yealy said.

The new test was created by a UPMC virology team, including Tung Phan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh and assistant director of clinical microbiology at UPMC; Charles Rinaldo, Jr., Ph.D., chair and professor of the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology and director of the UPMC Clinical Virology Laboratory; and Stephanie Mitchell, Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology at Pitt and director of clinical microbiology at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

WESA receives funding from UPMC.

Patrick Doyle oversees WESA's digital news. Previously, he served as WESA's news director. Email: pdoyle@wesa.fm.
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