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COVID-19 Response Fall 2021

COVID-19 Response update from the KU Medical Center Pathology department.

Rachael Liesman, Ph.D. Clinical Assistant Professor; Director, Clinical Microbiology Laboratory; Director, Molecular Microbiology Laboratory
Rachael Liesman, Ph.D. Clinical Assistant Professor; Director, Clinical Microbiology Laboratory; Director, Molecular Microbiology Laboratory

In December 2019, as news of an emerging novel coronavirus spread from China, it was readily apparent that we would need to perform molecular diagnostic testing to identify infections in our community. On March 23, ~60 hours after receiving reagents and 15 days after the first COVID-19 positive patient was admitted to the University of Kansas Hospital (TUKSH), our laboratory began testing TUKHS patients for SARSCoV-2. Our laboratory was the first hospital-based laboratory in the Kansas City metro region to perform SARS-CoV-2 testing and we were rapidly contacted by local hospitals and health departments to assist in testing their patients. To date, we have performed outreach testing for 10 Kansas or Missouri county health departments and seven non-KUH hospitals. In November 2020, we were awarded a contract with the State of Kansas to perform testing for long-term care facilities in nine counties in Western Kansas. Our outreach testing continues to date, and these efforts are critical to the state and community COVID-19 response.

The COVID laboratory testing team was instrumental in setting up the TUKHS swab clinics at Indian Creek, Battenfeld, and Watkins, and individuals in nearly every laboratory section, in one way or another, have been involved in the COVID-19 laboratory response. Notably critical to these efforts have been the phlebotomy team members at Indian Creek and the Medical Oce Pavilion, who receive and process outpatient and outreach specimens, the CDA team, who receive and process both outpatient and inpatient specimens, the send outs team, who managed many specimen testing requests prior to go-live, the LIS team, who were essential in specimen tracking and reporting design, and volunteers from throughout the department who helped assemble collection kits, aliquot and label specimens, and perform both COVID and non-COVID testing in the beginning months of the pandemic.

COVID-19 Samples Received Since March 2020Over the course of the pandemic, technologists in the Microbiology and Special Chemistry laboratory sections performed SARSCoV-2 testing on five different platforms using 13 independent instruments, 10 of which were purchased (or borrowed) after the initial go-live. Two laboratory renovations were required to support instrumentation and testing volume. To date, we have performed >230,000 SARS-CoV-2 tests, in addition to supporting increased volumes of existing tests. Nine new technologists were hired and trained into the Special Chemistry section during the first year of the pandemic. Our highest single-day positivity rate was 20.06% (November 26, 2020); the largest number of SARS-CoV-2 tests performed in a single day was 1,415 tests (November 20, 2020). Our overall positivity rate to date is 7.07% and >95% of all tests performed have been reported within 36 hours of collection.

With the increase in testing volume, instrumentation, and expertise, a new laboratory section, Molecular Microbiology, was created, with Marissa Larson as supervisor. This group continues to perform SARS-CoV-2 testing and, as the delta variant becomes the predominant circulating strain in the region, test positivity rate has increased from 2% in the month of June to 9% in the most recent 2-week period. Our testing volume has decreased from the peak in the Fall of 2020 but remains significant at ~300-400 tests performed per day. We hope everyone stays safe and gets vaccinated as we continue through this most recent wave of transmission and prepare for the upcoming respiratory viral season.

KU School of Medicine

University of Kansas Medical Center
Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
Mail Stop 3045
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City, KS 66160
Phone: 913-588-7070
Fax: 913-588-7073