In January, before most of America had even heard of the novel coronavirus, clinical lab scientists at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia already had an ambitious goal: to develop a diagnostic test that would quickly and accurately identify the new virus in patients.
An initial test existed, but when CHOP lab scientists trialed that test, “We encountered unreliable results,” says Surabhi Mulchandani, MSc, MS, CGC, Director of Operations of CHOP’s Lab Medicine Division. “We believed the key to containing the virus was more accurate testing.”
Deploying resources and abundant ingenuity, the CHOP team worked around the clock for weeks to modify the existing test to create its own — with impressive results. “Our test is more than 99% accurate and the results are reproducible,” Mulchandani says.
Faster, smarter, safer
In early March, CHOP became the first hospital lab in the state and the second in the nation to get the federal government’s emergency authorization to begin testing patients for coronavirus. “We created a team to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to receive specimens and get results,” Mulchandani says.
Soon, CHOP had expanded testing to outpatients, staff and community members, including first responders. By mid-March, CHOP was offering two drive-through COVID-19 testing sites, with support from Hyundai Hope on Wheels.
Initially, test results at CHOP were ready within 24 hours — a significant improvement from the national average at the time of two to five days. In April, results were available within about seven hours; by May, rapid one-hour testing was available for critically ill patients.
CHOP’s nimble response allowed clinicians to better collaborate with families, identify exposures and provide optimal care for affected patients. “At the beginning of the pandemic in our area, we were able to swiftly test and track down secondary exposures from our patients, something the state and national government didn’t yet have the capacity to do,” adds Mulchandani.
By the end of May, CHOP had conducted more than 10,000 COVID-19 tests — each one another piece of the puzzle, explains Mulchandani: “With every test at CHOP, we’re working to expand our understanding about this virus, how it affects patients and staff, and what we can do to help.”