The University of New Hampshire (UNH) recently opened a “state-of-the-art” coronavirus (COVID-19) testing lab, which can process up to 4,000 samples per day.
The lab is located on the second floor of UNH’s Health and Wellness building. It is directed by two UNH professors, Rick Cote and Kelley Thomas. Both testing and contact tracing are performed in conjunction with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NHDHHS).
All self-tests completed and dropped off by UNH students on the Durham campus are processed by the lab. In the future, the lab hopes to process samples from Keene State College, Plymouth State University, and other schools in the University of New Hampshire (USNH) system.
According to an article from the university on Sept. 8, “The lab is exclusively testing for COVID-19 and will play a key role in the university’s commitment to extensively monitor the student population and quickly identify and prevent any spread of the virus and help provide a safe environment for students, faculty, staff and the community.”
Test results from the lab can be ready in less than 48 hours, according to the university.
UNHInnovation is involved with both the self-testing process and the lab. In order to create and provide students with UNH’s shallow nasal swab self-testing kits, the university submitted an Emergency Use Authorization application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
According to the latest testing results available, UNH has 47 active cases as of Sept. 14, and 163 people are in quarantine with 35 in isolation. Fourteen people are isolating on campus, and 28 are quarantined on campus. The university had 26 positive cases out of 30,389 tests completed in the past week, resulting in a positivity rate of 0.09%.
Isolation is defined as the 14-day period after someone has tested positive. Quarantine is when someone has been exposed to a COVID-19-positive person, and can potentially develop symptoms.
In an email interview with The New Hampshire, Peter Degnan, Medical Director at Health and Wellness said, “Health & Wellness in conjunction with the NH Department of Health and Human Services will be tracking and contacting members of the community who test positive or inconclusive to inform them of test results, provide guidance on isolation and care, gather information to identify who may be close contacts and reach out to identified close contacts. Health & Wellness will also assist in arranging isolation and quarantine housing on campus if required.”
The lab uses pooled testing, where students’ COVID-19 samples are tested together, and if a pool tests positive, each sample from it will then be tested again individually. Once the positive case or cases have been identified, the student will be asked to go to Health and Wellness to be tested by a healthcare professional, and then the contact tracing process will begin. Close contacts of the positive case will be notified and must quarantine either in on-campus quarantine housing at Babcock Hall or at home. Those who test positive must isolate in Adams Tower West or at home.
“In addition Health & Wellness will perform repeat COVID-19 testing if an initial test result is inconclusive or rejected due to an inadequate specimen,” according to Degnan.
Tallie Anne Algiere, a junior genetics major, is one of a few students who work in the lab. Her role as a clinical lab assistant includes logging student samples into the system, organizing them, and putting them into groups as well as controlling the pipetting instrument, and making sure work stations are clean.
“It’s just a really fun experience, I love doing it because I am interested in doing research when I get my undergrad, this is just a great way to build experience and learn how a lab works,” said Algiere.
She cleared up some rumors about notification for students who test positive for COVID-19. If someone’s results come back positive, “You will be notified by UNH Health and Wellness, the University System, New Hampshire public health – your phone will be ringing off the wall and you will be getting emails nonstop,” said Algiere.
“We’re doing really well compared to other schools. I think UNH is handling this extremely well, it’s very well-thought out, I’ve never heard of another school doing self-swabbing so it’s working, it’s really working, and I think definitely with all the emails that go out…. They’re doing a job letting us know and showing us what the consequences could be.”