Rapid COVID-19 testing now in regional laboratories - greater support for regional hospitals

Lab Technician Shelley Blacker using the GeneXpert at the SCL lab in Nelson

From today, eight regional labs will be receiving much needed capability to rapidly test for COVID-19 and influenza, providing crucial and timely support to regional hospitals. Rapid COVID-19 tests take just under an hour, enabling the smaller regional labs to add to the national testing capacity and support regional hospitals to act early. 

The ability to now perform rapid COVID-19 and influenza testing at these regional sites is through the deployment of a molecular testing machine called GeneXpert, an initiative being rolled out by Southern Community Labs (SCL) to their regional sites in Masterton, NewPlymouth, Nelson, Blenheim, Clyde, Timaru, Invercargill, and Queenstown.  

CEO of SCL Dr Peter Gootjes said COVID-19 is the driving force behind these regional labs accessing near-patient, low volume rapid molecular testing. 

“Up until now our regional lab sites would not have had on-site molecular testing, and under normal circumstances they would likely never have had it, but with COVID-19 we need these sites to support the hospitals with faster information than ever before. The GeneXpert will help them do that,” says Dr Gootjes.   

The roll out of the testing to regional lab sites is operationally cost effective and relatively easy to deploy says Dr Gootjes,making it easier to put COVID-19 testing into as many of their SCL lab sites as appropriate to support clinical decisions. 

“The equipment is perfectly suited for our smaller labs. It requires minimal training and minimal molecular expertise to operate.At low volumes it can provide a range of respiratory tests including COVID-19 and the influenza, and these results come back within an hour, so the clinical impact with these at our regional sites is significant,” he said. 

High volume COVID-19 and influenza testing has been and will continue to be provided by the larger diagnostic labs where there is greater expertise and capacity to provide these services. While the new GeneXpert machine returns COVID-19 tests quickly, it is a low volume machine and will be used to focus on specific high needs cases with the greatest impact.  

The SCL labs in Nelson, Timaru and Invercargill have had the GeneXpert platform for over a year with rapid influenza testing capability. The extension of the rapid testing platform will cover more of the regional areas where access to testing is challenging, as well as provide COVID-19 testing to the current sites.  

SCL Clinical Microbiologist Dr Juliet Elvy said the Nelson site went live today with their rapid COVID-19 testing, and that it offers a raft of benefits for the regional hospitals. 

“In the Nelson lab we’ve had the GeneXpert to run rapid influenza tests for over a year, so we’re really excited to add rapid COVID-19 testing. It’ll further enhance the way we support the hospital and our public health team – it will improve how they triage and give them fast accurate information to make calls on how to manage the patient,” says Dr Elvy.



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