By Diana Kenney
One of the most alarming aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the national shortage of test kits for the infection. Nearly every hospital struggled to get testing supplies as the pandemic accelerated late last winter, and stories about disappearing or stolen shipments only added to their distress.
Fortunately, the MBL is helping to fill this critical gap for Cape Cod Healthcare (CCHC), the major healthcare provider in the region with hospitals in Falmouth and Hyannis. Thanks to a supply agreement with MBL, Cape Cod Healthcare is currently testing about 1,400 people a week for COVID-19.
It’s an enormous improvement over the past two months.
“Back in April, we realized everyone nationwide was out of nasal swabs for the COVID-19 test, as well as viral transport media,” says Patricia Phelan, Cape Cod Healthcare microbiology supervisor.
(To administer the standard test, a long, flocked swab is inserted deep into the patient’s nasopharyngeal cavity to obtain a sample. The swab is then sealed in a tube containing sterile transport media, and this “viral transport kit” is sent to the lab for testing.)
The MBL was already in contact with CCHC at the time, as Director of Research David Mark Welch had led a campus-wide effort to find and donate gloves, gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE) – also in severely short supply – for their medical staff.
Mark Welch realized that the viral transport media for COVID-19 tests could be “home brewed” in the MBL labs easily enough. “If someone could find the nasal swabs, we could make hundreds of viral transport kits at a time,” Mark Welch says.
After Cape Cod Healthcare was able to secure a supply of test swabs, MBL kicked into gear.
Now, Mark Welch and a team of volunteers at MBL are making between 1,000 and 1,500 viral transport kits a week. This partnership has helped the region’s safety-net healthcare system safely reopen for elective patients.
“We are giving a COVID-19 test to everyone who walks into the emergency room, all patients coming in for elective surgeries, and our employees if needed,” Phelan says. “Our microbiology lab is running 24-7.”
“Everyone at MBL is stepping up to help in any way they can,” says Mark Welch. And the Cape Cod Healthcare team is grateful. “David has been awesome right from the beginning, using his own car to truck cases and cases of donated PPE to Falmouth Hospital for distribution,” Phelan says.
But the best news is this: While the healthcare system is finally ramping up its COVID-19 testing capacity, the percentage of positive tests is going down.
Cape Cod Healthcare continues to strongly encourage patients to seek medical care for any urgent healthcare needs, as some patients have waited too long to visit the hospital.
“The healthcare facilities and hospitals are safe, and the staff are prepared to meet your care needs,” says CCHC representative Christina Peaslee.