Vt. Health Lab ‘Ramping Up' Coronavirus Testing

Additional scientists are being trained to help handle expected testing demands, the Vermont Department of Public Health said Tuesday

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Vermont’s public health laboratory says it is increasing capacity for testing, as concerns over coronavirus grow.

“It’s ramping up every day,” Cheryl Achilles of the Vermont Department of Health said of the facility’s ability to perform testing. “We’re working around the clock.”

The lab already detected one presumptive positive case in Bennington County, in an adult man now receiving treatment at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

NECN was granted access to portions of the health lab Tuesday, where news cameras saw microbiologists performing tests for the new coronavirus.

Basically, the scientists were looking for the virus’s genetic material in samples swabbed from people’s noses and throats.

Achilles told NECN the test takes just over five hours to return a result. She added that experienced scientists on her team take part in drills throughout the year to stay sharp, in case a public health threat like COVID-19 emerges.

“We’re also training six additional microbiologists to assist us with the testing,” Achilles said, noting those six will join five microbiologists now performing tests.

According to the Vermont Department of Health, as of Tuesday afternoon, the lab had tallied 40 negative tests for coronavirus and the one presumptive positive test from Bennington County.

That presumptive positive test was forwarded to the Centers for Disease Control for confirmation, health officials explained.

Vermont’s health commissioner, Dr. Mark Levine, said as of now, clinicians are ordering tests on people with fevers, coughs, and other respiratory symptoms, who also had travel histories or some reason to believe they could’ve been exposed to the new virus.

“People who feel they have a stuffy nose and, you know, a common cold, probably it wouldn’t be high value to test that entire population of people,” Levine said Sunday. “Because we would not find much COVID-19—you would find common cold kind of viruses.”

“I think it’s important for everyone to understand that as soon as we get a presumptive positive test, that we take action,” Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, told reporters Sunday. “We don’t wait for the CDC to come back and confirm that; we actually put in place all the protocols at that point.”

Those protocols would include rigorous tracing of anyone the patient would have had contact with, so they could then take precautions like self-quarantining, Scott and Levine said.

The health lab said in this era of COVID-19, it’s glad to be doing its part to help keep the community safe.

Nationally, there have been questions about whether public health labs can meet the challenge of coronavirus. Vermont’s lab said it has the personnel and equipment it believes it needs.

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