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Yale New Haven Health surpasses one million COVID tests

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With a shortage of commercially available COVID tests early in the pandemic, Yale New Haven Hospital’s Clinical Virology Laboratory developed its own test.


On April 21, Yale New Haven Health reached a significant milestone: conducting one million COVID-19 tests across the health system. 

Over 95 percent of these tests were collected by YNHHS personnel and tested by health system laboratories, making YNHHS unique in Connecticut for offering complete COVID-19 testing services on this scale. 

When COVID hit the United States in early 2020, testing capability was extremely limited. Samples had to be sent to outside labs for testing, resulting in long waits. On March 13, 2020, Yale New Haven Hospital’s Clinical Virology Laboratory developed its own COVID-19 test, which met stringent FDA requirements. 

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Colin Cieniawa, medical technologist, Virology, and Vikas Patel, clinical laboratory shift coordinator, Microbiology, were among the Lab staff who worked to process as many specimens as possible as soon as the FDA approved YNHH’s COVID-19 test. 

 

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Staff involved in specimen collection and testing received t-shirts to mark YNHHS’ one millionth COVID test. Sporting their new tees were Saint Raphael Campus specimen collection site crew members (l-r): Abby Wright, RN; Stacey Holcomb, clerk; Allison Carter, patient care associate; Alexis Glover, PCA; Tiffany Bacote, PCA: and Tenesia Price, PCA.

“For several weeks early in the pandemic, there were no commercial tests available, so having our own laboratory-developed test, based on the CDC assay, made a huge difference for admitted patients and the staff caring for them,” said Marie-Louise Landry, MD, director, YNHH Clinical Virology Laboratory. “One of the Virology Lab technologists volunteered to work third shift so we could provide 24/7 COVID testing. We were the only hospital in Connecticut with on-site testing.”

YNHH was able to offer its test to patients and rapidly expand testing to cover all YNHHS hospitals. Eventually, different commercial tests became available and all YNHHS laboratories could perform COVID testing. 

By June 2020, YNHHS laboratories were consistently performing more than 2,000 tests a day, but testing needs still were not being met. In response, the health system implemented a highly complex test platform in a dedicated COVID Testing Laboratory at Yale New Haven Hospital. By November 2020, YNHHS was testing nearly 5,000 specimens a day.

“The testing performed at each delivery network has been essential to meeting our patient needs; and collaboration among YNHHS laboratories and the health system testing enterprise has made this possible,” said David R. Peaper, MD, PhD, director, YNHH COVID Testing Laboratory. “The COVID Testing Laboratory staff have done a tremendous job of managing a complex test at a scale that was previously unimaginable in order to meet testing needs throughout the state.” 

By developing its own test so early in the pandemic, YNHHS was able to test more patients quickly, allowing for faster assessment and treatment. In fact, 97 percent of patients receive test results within two days. YNHHS conducts highly sensitive COVID-19 tests, such as PCR, which detect genetic material in the virus.

These are considered the best because of their accuracy in detecting COVID-19, even in asymptomatic people.

“Fast, safe, convenient and reliable testing is a vital component to combatting COVID-19,” said Montana Passero, interim executive director, YNHHS Lab/COVID Testing. “Our labs did a phenomenal job creating the tests and providing timely results."

The health system also created a network of 13 COVID-19 public mass testing/specimen collection sites throughout Connecticut. The health system also operates a mobile RV that brings testing to underserved communities and a testing site in Westerly, RI. These sites accommodate adults and children with and without symptoms, along with people scheduled for procedures at YNHHS delivery networks.  

YNHHS developed and launched testing centers in record time, and developed safety protocols for patients and staff that allowed so many people to get tested quickly. 

"This only occurs with a skilled and dedicated staff that worked tirelessly to reassure the communities we serve that we are here for them,” Passero said. 

Check out the one millionth test video.