A laboratory based at Tulane Medical Center and in partnership with University Medical Center is conducting a new test for COVID-19 that can yield results within four hours, helping hospitals better identify these patients and conserve needed resources to treat them.

"Hospitals need in-house testing to manage patients admitted with presumptive symptoms of COVID-19," said Dr. Byron Crawford, medical director of the Tulane Medical Center Laboratory and a professor of pathology at Tulane School of Medicine.

The test detects the virus in saliva and mucus swab samples from patients who meet the clinical and epidemiological criteria for testing. Because of its rapid turnaround, doctors can quickly release patients who test negative and quarantine and treat those who test positive. This advancement also will result in fewer tests needing to be sent to the Louisiana Department of Health laboratory, freeing those resources for other needs in the state.

"You want to know as soon as possible whether a patient has COVID-19 or not. You want to get those who test negative out as soon as possible, otherwise it ties up physicians, health care workers, PPEs (personal protective equipment)," Crawford said.

The new test was made possible through the joint efforts of the Tulane University School of Medicine, the LSU School of Medicine, Tulane Health System, LCMC Health and Roche Diagnostics.

Researchers at the Tulane Medical Center laboratory ran its first set of tests using the Cobas 6800 analyzer, as the test is known, over the weekend and is now capable of running nearly 200 tests a day on patients at both Tulane Medical Center and University Medical Center. While this new system will allow for faster turnaround times, it is important to note that testing supplies are still limited. Therefore, testing will be reserved for hospital inpatients meeting criteria, as defined by the CDC, and will not be made available for outpatient testing at this time.

The Louisiana Department of Health recommends testing for any patient with fever, respiratory symptoms and a negative flu test. Any provider can order testing based on their clinical judgement.

If you have mild symptoms such as fever and a cough, you should self-isolate and call ahead to your physician's office so they can limit exposure to others.

Anyone with severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or chest pressure, new confusion, bluish lips or face, should call 911 and go to a hospital emergency department.

Crawford credited the multi-talented individuals from the Tulane University School of Medicine, LSU School of Medicine, Tulane Medical Center, UMC-LCMC and Roche Diagnostics "for working as a team to improve patient care at both UMC and TMC while also helping our overall community in this pandemic."

Dr. Gordon Love, professor and chair of pathology at LSU Medical School and Medical Director of Laboratories at University Medical Center, agreed.

"I knew that the Tulane Medical Center laboratory had the instrument to detect COVID-19 virus but could not obtain the chemicals to run the tests," Love said. "LCMC Health's leadership was able to obtain these chemicals from Roche Diagnostics and I was able to work with Dr. Crawford to bring the testing up at TMC. This is a great example of LSU Medical School, University Medical Center and Tulane Medical Center working together for the benefit of the people of New Orleans to fight the COVID-19 virus."

Dr. Lee Hamm, dean of Tulane Medical School, said the lack of rapid testing had been "one of the critical issues in dealing with this pandemic. By working together between Tulane, LSU, and LCMC/UMC we have been able to achieve rapid testing now - this is a huge achievement for our patients."

Roche Diagnostics is the Switzerland-based manufacturer of the Cobas 6800 analyzer. The FDA this month issued emergency use authorization to Roche to test patients who show signs and symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

tags: covid-19