Cornell University creates its own COVID-19 Testing Laboratory on campus

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ITHACA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Cornell University has created a testing lab it plans to use for testing five to 7,000 tests a day of students, faculty and staff on its Ithaca Campus.

The Cornell COVID-19 Testing Laboratory (CCTL) is based at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine.

The lab is brand new, but it builds on a foundation of existing skills from the Vet School’s Animal Diagnostic Center.

Dr. Diego Diel, CCTL director, says, “It is a huge undertaking and it took a lot of people to put it together.”

In 50 days the team renovated the space on campus, built the lab, bought, at about $1.5 million, the equipment, installed it and validated it, and the tests with Cayuga Medical Center.

“I think it is essential for the reopening of the university. The ability of tests, thousands of samples, and have results turned around almost in the same day, or in 24 hours,” Diel tells NewsChannel 9.

And he adds CCTL is critical to keep it open with in-person instruction all semester.

The samples will arrive via courier every 30 minutes. Once they’re logged in at CCTL a robot will pipette the liquid samples into pools of five.

The pools will then be processed in batches of 93 at a time — ultimately yielding test results within 24 hours for 5,000 to 7,000 Cornell students, staff, and faculty per day.

The CCTL’s surveillance efforts began Aug. 17 and will gear up Sept. 2 for twice-weekly testing for undergraduates and weekly tests for graduate students, faculty, and staff.

Beginning Sept. 2, students, faculty and on-campus staff will be required to undergo regular surveillance testing, with seven sites on the Ithaca campus where people can self-collect nasal swab samples, under supervision. These samples will then be transported to CCTL, where the testing process takes place.

Once the pooled samples are placed on 96-well plates – three of the wells are used for controls, and 93 are active pools — they’re subjected to a nucleic acid extraction, to purify viral RNA from the samples. The viral RNA is then tested using PCR to detect SARS-CoV-2.

Pools with positive cases emit a fluorescent glow; individual samples making up positive pools undergo retesting to identify the infected individuals. The Tompkins County Health Department will handle case management and contact tracing for confirmed cases.

“I’m pretty proud of the team and happy to be part of the project,” Diel tells NewsChannel 9.

The plan is to test undergrads twice a week, faculty and staff once a week, except for those not on campus regularly who will be tested twice a month.

“We’re about a week away from getting really real,” he adds.

Cayuga Health will continue to provide oversight to the CCTL as part of their certification as a CLIA laboratory for the region.

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