Only on Action News: Tulare lab testing hundreds of samples for COVID-19

TULARE, Calif. (KFSN) -- One month ago, the Tulare County Public Health Laboratory became one of the first labs in the state to start testing samples for COVID-19.

The lab has been a regional reference lab for about 15 years and receives grant funding for specialized training and equipment that supports environmental and clinical testing.

"So as a result of that, we've been able to participate in statewide and national surveillance networks and it's through one of those surveillance networks that authorized us to be able to bring on the COVID-19 testing," said Tulare County Public Health Lab Manager Denise Lopez.

Once a collection kit arrives, Lopez says lab assistants perform a series of checks.

Then, lab scientists start a two-part testing process using a test kit from the CDC and lab equipment.

"So the microbiologist takes the sample into the biosafety level three facility," she said. "They put the sample onto the extraction equipment, and that equipment is what will purify the nucleic acid from the virus. And then the microbiologist will add some additional reagents, put it onto the second instrument. And the second instrument is what will detect whether or not the virus is present in each sample."

At first, the lab was only testing 10 samples a day.

They've been able to rapidly increase their testing capacity by bringing on two microbiologists from Kings and Fresno Counties, and through the purchase of a new piece of equipment used in the extraction phase.

The lab can now test more than 85 samples a day, and to date, has tested more than 700 patients.

The majority of those patients are at a higher risk of getting COVID-19.

"Like long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, first responders, fire, police, EMT's," Lopez said. "We're also doing testing for our doctors and our nurses, and then we're doing testing for those that are at highest for being positive-direct contacts of known cases."

Lopez says there's no backlog of cases at their lab-they're able to complete all tests within a day.

She says all of their CDC test kit orders have been fulfilled, but they'll also consider any new commercial tests that become available.

For more news coverage on the coronavirus and COVID-19 go to ABC30.com/coronavirus
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