After months of complaints about test delays, New York City officials announced Thursday that they have opened a lab in Manhattan that is expected to significantly reduce wait times as the city prepares for its most ambitious reopening period, with classroom classes. public schools and indoor dining scheduled for early this month.
Rather than relying on large laboratory companies – which have been inundated with demand from across the country as the virus continues to spread, leading to arrears – the new facility will prioritize New York City residents, meaning lead times within. 24-48 hours, officials said.
“It will give us more capacity just in terms of numbers,” said Dr Jay Varma, a city councilor who is playing a leading role in the city’s coronavirus response. “It will also give us control because this is a truly dedicated laboratory in New York City.”
New York City has one of the most ambitious coronavirus testing programs in the country, cleaning more than 200,000 people a week, more than 2% of all city residents. The new lab, which began processing tests this week, should ultimately help significantly expand this.
The lab, on the 12th floor of a building between First Avenue and East 29th Street, is run by Opentrons, a small robotics company. But New York City played a significant role in creating the lab, city officials said. For now, the city and its public hospital system are the laboratory’s only customers.
At first, the new lab, which is called Pandemic Response Lab, will only handle a few thousand tests per day, mostly from samples collected at test sites run by the city’s public hospital system, city hall and Opentrons officials said.
But the expectation is that the lab will eventually be able to test more than 40,000 samples per day, possibly including some of public school students and teachers, as needed.
On Wednesday morning, the lab had returned results on the first 712 samples that had been sent to it and is currently able to handle about 3,000 samples per day, a number that is expected to increase dramatically in the next week, a lab spokesperson said. .
Public health officials hope the tests – for the first time since the coronavirus arrived in New York City – will no longer be a scarce resource.
The new lab is the latest chapter in the city’s long-running efforts to solve a number of problems plaguing testing efforts. The problems date back to February and March, when a series of missteps and disastrous decisions by the federal government meant few people qualified for a test – even when they showed clear symptoms of Covid-19 – as the virus began to circulate throughout New York City and its suburbs.
At first, the federal government had a monopoly on testing, and the city rushed to develop the ability to test on its own. Initially, the effort was hampered by a shortage of test kits, chemical reagents and even the swabs used to collect the samples.
In the months that followed, the largest national labs greatly increased their testing capacity, and New York City began to rely on them to handle most of the local testing. But some of these labs, such as Quest Diagnostics, grew overwhelmed this summer due to worsening outbreaks in other parts of the country.
This contributed to waiting times of up to 2-3 weeks for test results in New York. For public health officials, it was clear that New York City needed more testing infrastructure that it could control, or at least rely on.
“We will enter the scale of testing capacity that we believe is fundamental, ”said Dr Varma.
The additional capacity could come in handy amid the impending push for students and teachers to take tests as classroom education resumes for hundreds of thousands of people in the public school system. And as flu season begins and colds have begun to circulate in greater numbers, the demand for testing may increase as New Yorkers face symptoms that may or may not mean Covid-19.
“We knew we really needed our testing capacity to be on top in the fall,” said Dr Varma.
Opentrons, the robotics company that will manage the laboratory, specializes in the automation of research laboratories. Jonathan Brennan-Badal, the company’s chief executive, said three robotic arms will move trays, each containing around 380 samples, between different test stations.
The lab plans to start pooling samples, a method in which a number of samples are pooled and tested as one.
James Patchett, president of the city’s economic development company, expressed the hope that with the pooling of the lab he would be able to test 40,000 to 60,000 samples per day.
The push for the lab dates back to early April, at the height of the outbreak, when City Hall realized it was facing critical supply shortages.
Month after month, the city’s testing program remained a weak link in its ability to respond to the coronavirus.
The city itself has a limited capacity to process tests. There was the Public Health Laboratory of the Department of Health, as well as rapid testing equipment at various sexual health clinics and public hospitals run by the city. Overall, the city could process around 10,000 tests per day alone, said Jeff Thamkittikasem, director of the mayor’s operations office.
Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke of the city’s ambition to test 50,000 New Yorkers a day by the end of the summer.
For months now, City Hall and the City’s Economic Development Agency have been in discussions with lab companies and start-ups about creating more dedicated test management lab capabilities for New York City.
The new laboratory will be based in part on a process developed by genetic researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, said Brennan-Badal, chief executive of Opentrons. In addition to enabling high-volume testing, the process also consumes relatively fewer reagents and other inventory that has been in short supply at various points in the pandemic, he said.
The city will pay Opentrons $ 28 for each test, which Mr. Brennan-Badal said was less than a third of what other labs charged.
Mr. Thamkittikasem, the mayor’s operations assistant, said the plan was for the lab to also test samples for influenza.