The Daily Gamecock

COVID-19 testing lab capacity expands with extra personnel, machines

In an attempt to keep students safely on campus, the university opened its COVID-19 testing lab last year and has since maximized its testing capacity, according to Carolyn Banister, clinical assistant professor at the College of Pharmacy.

Last year, the university outsourced its nasal tests. This year, all COVID-19 tests taken on campus are processed on campus at Sumwalt College. USC's lab can process around 2,000 tests a day, according to reporting done by the Greenville News

Banister has worked with the COVID-19 testing lab since it opened last year. Banister said this year's method of testing on campus is cheaper now because the university is making its own tests.

"This is a university-derived test. We're able to produce it at a much lower cost instead of outsourcing it to another company," Banister said.

Banister said last year's testing operations were a form of crisis management.

"Last year, we were building the airplane while we were flying it," Banister said. "It's really crisis management 24/7."

Since last year, Banister has hired more people to work in the labs. These new lab members include three full-time non-student workers and both graduate and undergraduate students who work up to 20 hours a week.

Jay Patel, lab technologist and recent graduate, said he has worked at the lab since August and that the lab can become a challenge around holidays.

"If the university is open all five or four of the days, it's fine," Patel said. "But when there's like, Labor Day or some holiday, you kind of squeeze into four or three days. That becomes a challenge." 

The lab has upsized since it began last year. Overall, Banister said operations are running smoothly.

"There's a method," Banister said.

The percentage of positive cases on campus is going down, according to the university's data. Since the week of Sept. 12 to Sept. 18, USC has reported a total of 190 cases of COVID-19. This is a decrease from the previous report's 386 cases.

"The percent positives are going down already, and it never reached the magnitude that we had last year," Banister said. "So, that is one indication that the vaccines are working, and people are not getting this ill, especially being back at full capacity."

Using Opentron machines, each saliva sample tests four times to ensure a correct result in the lab. The lab started with one testing machine but now has six for maximized testing capabilities, according to Banister.

Graduate pharmacy student Vanessa Poirier has been working in the COVID-19 lab since it opened last year. 

"It's kind of awesome to have seen it from the start to what it is now," Poirier said. "We were only a couple people at the beginning — two machines — kind of trying to cover the whole school. It's grown substantially."