Tech readies testing lab for return of students

Published 6:00 am Friday, August 14, 2020

Virginia Tech’s COVID-19 Lab has processed more than 10,000 samples to support health districts in Southwest Virginia since its launch in April.

Starting this week, as students begin to return to campus for the fall semester, the lab’s capacity of 1,000 tests per day will play an increasingly important role to Virginia Tech students and employees in high-contact roles.

“This testing capacity has been a key factor in allowing Virginia Tech to plan for fall opening with some in-person instruction and with about one-quarter of our students occupying on-campus residences in Blacksburg,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in a letter to the campus community.

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Carla Finkielstein, director of the Virginia Tech Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, said researchers have already assembled 10,000 collection units that will be used to collect samples to analyze for coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

“We are going to be super ready for the students,” Finkielstein said.

For people who may be a little reluctant to have a swab pushed into the far reaches of their sinuses, the Virginia Tech sample collection uses a less intrusive approach and collects the sample from the middle of the nose. The lab at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke generally delivers results within 24 hours.

“When this pandemic exploded and we were on the verge of deciding what to do next, the university had two options,” Finkielstein, who is also an associate professor of biological sciences in Virginia Tech’s College of Science, said. “One was to wait for someone to help us, and the other one was to put our collective heads and resources together and do something to serve our community. Our university chose to be proactive. We want to help take care of our students. We are bringing them back, and we are testing them.”