Doctors Hospital COVID lab could allow broader testing

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The CTMH Doctors Hospital expects to have capacity to carry out 200 coronavirus tests daily as early as next week.

In a development that could radically change Cayman’s strategy in fighting the virus, the private hospital has established its own testing laboratory.

It has teamed up with an Australian medical services firm called Ozgene, which has a presence in Cayman’s Special Economic Zone, to retro-fit its chemo compounding lab as a COVID-19 testing facility.

Medics in full protective gear, including goggles and N95 masks, will be able to perform the tests on anyone who fits the World Health Organization criteria to be tested.

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Dr. Yaron Rado, chairman of the hospital board, said it had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in readying itself to play a pivotal role in the coronavirus crisis.

He said the lab was going through internal testing Friday and he hopes it will get approval from the Health Practice Commission and Public Health England to begin processing patients as early as next week. Initially he said the lab would test 72 patients daily, ramping up to 200-a-day once it fine tunes the process.

Through its partnership with Ozgene, the hospital has sourced equipment, including a polymerase chain reaction testing machine, which will allow it to test for COVID-19.

As a private hospital, Rado said, the facility had been able to tap into different supply lines and would have enough materials to conduct 200 tests a day for the next two weeks. After that, he believes, they will be able to fine-tune their processes to increase the number of tests that can be carried out even further.

“We have our supply chain activated and we don’t see any issues there,” he added.

He said the lab would enable the government to open up testing to a broader base. Rado said he was in constant contact with the Health Services Authority and would work with public health officials to supplement their testing.

The World Health Organization has recommended widespread testing in an effort to isolate COVID-19 carriers, trace their contacts and prevent the spread of the virus.

“We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said during a press conference last week.

“Test every suspected case; if they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in contact with two days before they developed symptoms and test those people, too,” he said.

Until now, a lack of resources has prevented Cayman from pursuing this strategy.

At a press conference Thursday, Cayman’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said the island had the capacity to carry out only 100 more tests.

He said HSA had “several orders out” for reagents – chemical compounds used in the testing process. He expressed confidence that the Doctors Hospital would have its testing lab up and running shortly.

Lee added, “If we were to have the abilities, we could think about how we could be more inventive. Could we release people by doing wider testing, just like they have done in Korea?

“They have used testing as their means to try and get out of the explosion, which they have very successfully done.”

Rado said the protocols on who could be tested would come from the HSA and WHO.

He said CTMH Doctors Hospital would likely have its lab inspected this weekend. It will outsource chemo compounding to the HSA while the lab is operating as a COVID-19 testing facility.

He added that the hospital had altered its processes to keep everything COVID-related separate from other functions. 

All new patients, whatever their medical complaint, are being isolated and won’t go on to a general ward until they have been tested for coronavirus.

Dr. Frank Koentgen, CEO and founder of Ozgene, explained the testing process in a video produced for CTMH Doctors Hospital.

He said, “We are looking for the specific genetic code of the the coronavirus. We do a general swab that a hospital does many times, from that swab we extract the genetic code, and then we have a big beautiful machine that can tell us whether there is a coronavirus gene in there or not.”

Full coverage: Coronavirus

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