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Sparrow Limits Same-Day COVID-19 Testing to Inpatients, At-Risk Staff

Sparrow Hospital photo
Sparrow Hospital
Sparrow Laboratories in Lansing is providing same-day inpatient coronavirus testing.

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, hospitals across the U.S. are scrambling to expand their capability to test patients for the disease.  Sparrow Hospital in Lansing is the first medical facility in mid-Michigan to offer same-day inpatient testing.  WKAR’s Kevin Lavery spoke with Sparrow Laboratories medical director Dr. James Richard to learn more.

Editor's Note:  Sparrow Hospital is limiting testing to patients already in the hospital and certain medical staff most at risk of COVID-19 exposure.  Tests are not available to the general public.

Dr. James Richard:

When we receive a specimen, it first has to be processed in a way that extracts the viral genetic material.  Then it has to go through a series of changes within the lab that requires us to decode portions of that genetic code, and then find a way to amplify it in a fashion so that we can then identify the virus's genetic code as being present or absent in the specimen.


Kevin Lavery:

Who is being tested? Is it the everyday public who's able to come in or is it restricted to patients who are already in the hospital?


Dr. Richard: 

Because of the limited capacity of testing; the number of tests we can do a day…we’ve focused our concentration on the most ill patients and those with the highest risk of being exposed and having the virus.  What we’re focused on currently with our testing is primarily inpatients, and then staff who may have had significant exposure (like) ER physicians and other individuals.

The need for testing is significantly greater than our capacity, so we send our overflow testing to LabCorp.  The key issue is, their turnaround time is about four to five days from the time that it’s received in their testing facility. So that could be a week. For us, we are able to turn around the test in less than 48 hours and usually less than 24.



Are there other hospitals now in Michigan that are coming online and able to do the same thing that you're doing?


Dr. Richard: 

There are other hospitals. Henry Ford, William Beaumont…I'm familiar with them both being testing centers.  Others are literally in the wings and very well could have already stood up this test at their institutions.  A lot of this came down whenever the FDA relaxed some of their requirements on some of this testing, making it possible for small private labs to stand up this test and get it working.



How is Sparrow and other similar labs sharing information? Are there any new discoveries at all being made? Is someone having an “a-ha” moment saying, I understand now why this is so resistant to a vaccine?


Dr. Richard: 

All of our positive tests and that…it's a reportable disease. So that's all reported to the state. Then, the state is focusing all those into the federal government. So, we're able to sort of track things in that fashion. The people that are treating these individuals, the doctors and nurses and that that are on the floor are the ones that are focused on new changes that we can recognize.



In your best medical opinion, Dr. Richard, is there any way we can predict how long this is going to run its course in Michigan and the rest of the country? I know that’s an open-ended question, but it's the question on everyone's mind right now.


Dr. Richard: 

I think our best information is coming out of those countries that were affected first.  We need to take a look at the way that China's course went. I think we need to keep an eye on other countries and follow it. But rest assured, we're talking about months, not weeks.

We need to stay calm but concerned. We need to take a look at our community and recognize that we're social animals. So, touch base with your friend that might be living alone on the phone, make sure they're doing all right. Don't be afraid to get involved in helping someone else out.

We’re all in this together, so we need to turn around and lean on each other in order to get through this.



Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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