UO joins with partner to provide critical coronavirus testing

Medical worker with test tube

In the race to provide COVID-19 testing to contain the spread of the disease, the University of Oregon is partnering with McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center to test patients in Lane County for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Initial tests and validation are occurring this week, and testing capacity is expected to expand over the next few weeks.

“Access to fast, accurate testing is vital to slowing the spread of the coronavirus in the southern Willamette Valley and throughout Oregon,” said Patrick Phillips, the UO’s provost and senior vice president. “By providing testing equipment and research expertise to local health care providers, the University of Oregon will help our community during a time of unprecedented need.”

The UO provided McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center a testing machine as well as an array of instruments, scientific equipment and expertise from genomics researchers to assist set up of the COVID-19 testing lab at the 113-bed health care facility in Springfield. McKenzie-Willamette is a Level III trauma center with a full range of inpatient, outpatient, diagnostic, medical, surgical and emergency care services.

“The health of our community is imperative to McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center,” said David Elgarico, the center’s chief executive officer. “Collaborating with UO and providing up to 200 tests a day is in the best interest for the community we serve. We are extremely appreciative of this collaboration to help make UO’s vision a shared reality.”

Researchers from the UO’s Genomics and Cell Characterization Core Facility, which supports scientific research by offering genetic and genomic technologies, collaborated with McKenzie-Willamette in the setup of the lab so that rapid, high-volume COVID-19 testing can be done at the hospital.

“The UO does not have medical research facilities, but we had a lot of faculty and students who are willing and able to contribute to the response effort,” said Associate Vice President for Research Mike Pluth. “Our world-class science researchers were quickly able to figure out the unique contribution in the molecular biology of virus testing that we can provide directly to Lane County.”

As of Tuesday, April 14, Lane County Public Health reported that 1,540 COVID-19 tests had been administered countywide and produced 43 positive test results. The new partnership with the UO will allow McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center to greatly expand testing capacity within the region.

A physician’s order is needed for a test. Those who believe they have symptoms of COVID-19 should contact their health care provider, who will decide whether a test should be administered.

Planning for the testing program began in early March, when the UO’s procurement office, anticipating a need for coronavirus testing, ordered a testing instrument, known as the Applied Biosystems 7500 Fast Dx Real-Time PCR from Thermo Fisher Scientific, that is now in short supply. A second automated extraction RNA instrument known as the KingFisher is due to arrive later in April and will increase testing capacity.

Additionally, the UO is providing biosafety cabinets, microcentrifuges, pipetting machines required for the specialized testing and nasal swabs required for specimen collection.

“One of the benefits of a public research university like the UO is that we have access to world-class equipment and expertise that can be leveraged to support our state and community,” said Cassandra Moseley, senior associate vice president for research and innovation. “I’m grateful to the many people who have come together on campus, from our purchasing office to researchers, to partner with the local health care community to help provide critical infrastructure that is desperately needed right now.”

The UO has suspended all on-campus operations except for critical services to safeguard the health and well-being of students, faculty, staff and the community due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The institution continues to work in close coordination with the Oregon Health Authority and its companion institutions and agencies to protect students and employees while continuing with its mission.

For a complete list of all measures being taken, see the university’s coronavirus information page.

 —By Lewis Taylor, University Communications