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University Health begins processing COVID-19 tests from across Texas

This week, University Health began processing COVID-19 tests from across the state, using expanded capacity that it has been building for several months.

Under a $4 million agreement with the State of Texas, University Health will process up to 1,500 coronavirus samples per day using a cobas 6800 system manufactured by Roche. After the completion of 40,000 tests, the contract can be renewed as needed by the state.

Jim Willis, vice president and associate administrator at University Hospital, says the ability to assist the state in processing COVID-19 specimens is the result of realizing months ago that greater coronavirus testing capabilities would be needed.

“By proactively upgrading and expanding our testing capabilities, University Health is in a position to provide much-needed services beyond Bexar County,” said Willis. “Now we can provide COVID testing for the state in addition to having it available for our local community.”

With the first novel coronavirus patients in Bexar County, University Health and its UT Health San Antonio partners increased the capacity of current equipment to ensure their healthcare staff and emergency responders would have ready access to the PCR tests used to detect COVID-19. Then, University Health ordered two new cobas systems which are specifically designed to test for viruses.

Specimens collected from numerous locations throughout the state will be consolidated in Austin then shipped to University Health. Stephanie Whitehead, executive director of Pathology Services, says University Health expects to produce test results as quickly as within 24 hours. The ability to quickly provide results is an important factor in limiting exposure to the virus.

“During a global pandemic, the availability of accurate mass testing enables us to provide proper care and medically respond, which is vital to control the spread,” said Whitehead. “Our laboratory has a very powerful tool which can serve as a first line of defense against COVID-19 in our state,” she said.

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