As the fall quarter begins, UC Riverside has a new diagnostic lab operating on campus that will rapidly process samples from students and employees as part of an ongoing coronavirus testing program.
The lab, located at the Multidisciplinary Research Building, or MRB, tested its first sample in August and opened in early September.
The result of months of collaboration between several campus groups, the lab allows UCR to conduct its own independent testing of the campus community at a rate of about 600 samples a day. Results are processed within 24 hours.
“It’s one additional and important measure among all the others in place to mitigate the effects of the pandemic,” said Rodolfo Torres, vice chancellor for research and economic development, whose office was involved in planning for the lab.
A team of researchers from the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences assembled the lab from scratch, borrowing some equipment from colleagues and creating their own testing kits.
Katherine Borkovich, a professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology; and Isgouhi Kaloshian, a professor and chair of the Department of Nematology, led those efforts and are overseeing the lab operations.
Having its own lab on campus will allow UCR to avoid testing kit shortages and longer wait times for results, which they said some health providers and public agencies have faced.
The lab has continued to refine its process in recent weeks, switching from nasal swabs to saliva tests. This change has allowed staff to boost testing speed and capacity, and they have the potential for an even bigger increase. While using nasal swabs, the lab could only process 200 samples a day, Borkovich said.
Student Health Services and UCR Health have begun using the lab for testing students and employees as part of an ongoing effort to keep the campus safe and healthy.
A drive-thru testing event held by UCR Health on Sept. 9 and 10 drew about 70 employees who made appointments in advance and provided saliva samples to medical assistants from their vehicles. The process took no more than 10 minutes.
Student Health Services, which had limited testing through an outside lab since March, is ramping up testing of students residing on campus with the opening of the new lab. It tested resident advisors earlier this month and began testing incoming students this week.
All students moving into campus housing are required to get tested before they can check in. Once they are living on campus, they will continue to be tested up to twice a week throughout the fall quarter.
Pop-up sample collection sites will be set up at or near the residence halls where students can check-in with a barcode on their smartphones.
For both employees and students, the campus has created an email notification process for those testing negative. Any positive results will be delivered by phone.