Collaboration yields robust testing capacity in eastern North Carolina

Published 6:31 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2020

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When I first wrote about COVID-19 and its impending impact on our region on March, I shared it would take our entire community working together to manage this virus. Our efforts as a community have been impactful as many of us have social distanced, washed our hands and worn masks. Behind the scenes, Vidant continues to work collaboratively with a number of community and national partners and others to innovate, especially in regard to COVID testing.

Our capacity to test, not only for COVID, but other viruses such as the flu, is instrumental in keeping our communities safe, improving our economy and mitigating the risks we face as we plan for the future. Having the capacity to broadly and frequently test protects those we love.

To build a community response, we needed to know how prevalent the virus was in the region, and to achieve this, we had to increase testing capacities. We collaborated with East Carolina University, Thermo Fisher Scientific, GenMark Diagnostics, The Blood Connection, the Mayo Clinic and others to help build accurate, dependable testing tools needed to care for the 1.4 million people in our region.

Testing for COVID-19 comes in different shapes and sizes. A local company, Thermo Fisher was instrumental in helping us build the backbone of our largescale testing capacity at nearly 5,000 tests a day. With their technology, we are able to test a large number of patients and get those who tested positive the care they needed. This ability is one reason Vidant was selected by the state of North Carolina to help with testing in historically underserved communities.

Chronic conditions did not disappear when COVID-19 arrived. Health events such as strokes, heart attacks, diabetic episodes were still affecting those we love. GenMark Diagnostics, a company that develops state-of-the-art testing systems, helped us implement molecular testing capabilities for all Vidant hospitals. This helps quickly test those needing emergency care. In the fall, it will just as quickly help us identify patients that have potentially serious respiratory pathogens such as the flu, RSV, pneumonia, or COVID-19 with a single test.

COVID-19 Serological Antibody Testing is a phrase we will all hear more about moving forward. This testing helps identify people who have had the virus in the past by looking for antibodies, which are left behind once a patient recovers. These antibodies are important in helping the health-care community learn more about the virus and create vaccines and treatments, which will make a global difference.

Our partners at The Blood Connection, the primary supplier of blood products for Vidant, also offer serological testing and accept blood donations to help gather these antibodies and provide them to our lab. At Vidant, we collaborated with ECU and The Mayo Clinic in clinical trials to analyze these antibodies and put this knowledge to use.

Testing is the foundation of our community response. Our ability to test is already helping us protect organizations and local businesses as they implement their strategies for safe openings. This in turn will help support our economy. The amazing collaboration between Vidant and all of our partners provides us with dependable testing we need to make a difference in the region we proudly serve.

Michael Waldrum, MD, is the chief executive officer of Vidant Health.