As communities scramble to create comprehensive testing programs for SARS-CoV-2 to get accurate data on viral prevalence and strain diversity, an under-appreciated facet of the story is large institutions building their own testing infrastructure. Offices with large complexes have the space for their own testing facilities and a population of people with ready access to those spaces, making it possible for them to take this challenge into their own hands and relieve the burden on public facilities. But universities are in an even better position, with huge populations of young people who, often, are already accustomed to accessing medical services on-campus. North Carolina State University has taken up this challenge with aplomb.
NC State has established WolfTRACS, a “testing, reporting and COVID surveillance” program that tests huge numbers of student, faculty, and staff on both voluntary and mandatory bases, run through its College of Veterinary Medicine. WolfTRACS can test about 11,000 people each week using the highly automated Thermo Fisher Scientific Amplitude Testing Solution, with capacity to ramp up or down depending on need. “The benefits to NC State of doing this COVID surveillance and detection in-house, as opposed to using a commercial vendor, is that it’s more efficient,” Director of Diagnostics and WolfTRACS Labs, explains. “We can often get results back well within 24 hours and it also saves the university a significant amount of money. We can run the test in-house for about a third of the cost we would be charged by commercial vendors to do the same assay.” This combination of swift and inexpensive results gives NC State the ability to monitor the active presence of the virus on its campus to direct people who test positive into self-isolation before contagion spreads far and harms many. This, in turn, allows them to keep student housing, Greek life, and other campus activities open through the pandemic at reduced risk to students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community. Similarly, having an on-site testing program reduces the need for people associated with the university to seek out testing from public facilities, allowing those facilities and programs to focus on the town and county surrounding the university with greater effectiveness.
Samples collected throughout NC State are delivered to WolfTRACS, inactivated using heat to protect the staff from potentially contagious material, and then loaded into the Amplitude Solution per the device’s normal specifications. Four to five full-time workers can process the university’s roughly 2000 daily samples with help from their four students gaining valuable hands-on experience in the testing lab. That so few personnel are needed to process so many samples is a testament to the power of the Thermo Fisher Scientific Amplitude Solution, and that so many tests require processing is a testament to North Carolina State University’s intensive and thorough testing program.
For more information about the Amplitude Testing Solution for SARS-CoV-2, click here.