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New York City Opens Own Coronavirus Testing Lab To Increase Efficiency

Topline

New York City has opened its own coronavirus testing lab with the hopes of being able to process 40,000 to 60,000 samples a day in 24 to 48 hours, significantly increasing testing capacity and decreasing wait times as the city continues to reopen and braces for a possible second wave of the pandemic. 

Key Facts

The Pandemic Response Lab will prioritize New York City residents, city officials told the New York Times, meaning New Yorkers won’t need to depend on laboratory companies which are faced with demand from across the country. 

A small robotics firm called Opentrons is running the lab, which will start by processing a few thousand tests a day, primarily collected from testing sites run by the city’s public health system. 

The lab has already returned results on the first 712 samples it had been sent and can currently process about 3,000 samples a day, a spokesman for the lab said.

Opentrons CEO Jonathan Brennan-Badal said three robotic arms will move trays containing some 380 samples between different testing stations and may start pooling samples to increase efficiency, meaning a number of samples are grouped together and tested as one.

James Patchett, the president of New York City’s economic development corporation hopes pooling will allow the lab to test 40,000 to 60,000 samples a day.  

The city will pay Opentrons $28 for each test, which Brennan-Badal said was less than a third of what some other laboratories charge.

Key Background

New York City has one of the most robust coronavirus testing programs in the country and tests over 200,000 people a week, more than 2% of all residents. The goal of the new lab is to significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to process the tests. Initially, New York City relied on large national labs but some became overwhelmed as the number of cases continued to grow. New Yorkers waited as long as two to three weeks for test results. Dr. Jay Varma, a City Hall adviser leading the city’s coronavirus response, told the New York Times officials wanted to increase testing capacity by the fall. The lab may process tests from students and teachers in the coming months, which will be important with school resuming. New York City’s Health Department previously ran a lab and the city used testing equipment at city-run sexual health clinics and public hospitals. However, Jeff Thamkittikasem, the director of the mayor’s office of operations, said the city was only able to process 10,000 tests a day.

Tangent

There have been public labs in multiple states, including Pennsylvania, Alabama and Colorado. However, public health labs have a limited capacity compared to private labs. At their peak in mid-March, the nation’s public health labs conducted just over 11,000 tests in a day, according to NBC News. Many of the state labs NBC News reached out to said they were not near capacity because only a few dozen to a few hundred samples meet their criteria for prioritization each day.

Big Number

238,625. That’s how many confirmed Covid-19 cases there have been in New York City as of Tuesday, according to data from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. New York City was once the epicenter of the pandemic, but as of Tuesday the infection rate was down to 0.8%. 

Further Reading

N.Y.C. Is Opening Its Own Virus Testing Lab to Address Shortages (New York Times)

Private labs do 85 percent of U.S. COVID-19 tests but still struggle with backlogs, shortages (NBC News)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus


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