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Sentara's ability to process COVID-19 tests will expand patient testing within all Sentara hospitals across Virginia and North Carolina. This will shorten wait times for results by taking some of the test volume currently being sent to commercial laboratories. The goal is to incrementally achieve capacity to complete 1,000 tests per day within a few weeks and return test results in 24 to 48 hours.

Sentara Healthcare begins in-house COVID-19 testing

In-house testing expands availability of testing and shortens wait time for results

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Sentara Healthcare is now processing COVID-19 tests at a newly-created laboratory in Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The initiative will allow Sentara Laboratory Services to expand patient testing within all Sentara hospitals across Virginia and North Carolina. This will shorten wait times for results by taking some of the test volume currently being sent to commercial laboratories. The goal is to incrementally achieve the capacity to complete 1,000 tests per day within a few weeks and return test results in 24 to 48 hours.

The project involved the purchase and delivery of an Abbott m2000 RealTime testing instrument, related equipment and supplies, creation of a dedicated COVID-19 testing lab in a former laboratory conference room and train staff to use it in less than two weeks. 

"Sentara is fortunate to have the resources to respond to this crisis and begin our own testing within a few weeks," says Tabetha Sundin, Ph.D., scientific director of the Sentara Molecular Laboratory. "Waiting for test results can be nerve-wracking for our patients. We are doing all we can to speed up results and provide answers."

Sentara couriers routinely shuttle lab samples of all kinds from Sentara facilities to the laboratory at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital as often as seven times per day to ensure rapid results. This daily rotation will help ensure quicker results for COVID-19 test kits, which may be completed in 24 to 48 hours once they reach the lab.

An additional benefit of more rapid test results is conserving personal protective equipment (PPE) in Sentara hospitals. Patients who meet criteria for testing are presumed positive until they test negative, meaning all employees working with those patients must wear full PPE. Earlier test results will help eliminate negative COVID-19 patients sooner and allow our care teams to preserve PPE for patients known to be positive.

“With this new testing instrument online, additional priority will be given to patients tested in our emergency departments and to Sentara employees who need to be tested,” says Eric Young, director of Sentara Laboratory Services. “The final phase will include patients swabbed at doctors’ offices and test kits from other health care organizations who are current clients of Sentara Laboratory Services.”

This new capability will not eliminate the existing backlog of tests being handled by commercial laboratories. Sentara still estimates ten days or more for those tests to be completed due to the influx of tests being sent to those labs from all over the country.

Community members who think they need to be tested for COVID-19 should continue to use our self-screening tool found on www.sentara.com/coronavirus. If you think you meet the criteria for testing, first call your primary care provider for additional guidance. Otherwise, continue to self-quarantine at home. We ask that only older adults with symptoms or those with underlying health conditions come to emergency departments for testing or treatment of their symptoms.