Ahead of the curve Ahead of the curve Ahead of the curve

Fast, accurate COVID-19 testing quickly went
into effect here, thanks to the heroic efforts
of UW Medicine faculty and staff.

By Geoff Baird | Illustration by Anthony Russo | June 2020

If you’re like me, you hadn’t spent much time in your life worrying about the threat of a global pandemic. Thankfully, though, the Department of Laboratory Medicine’s Virology Division at the University of Washington School of Medicine has worried about this for a long time.

In January, when news came out of China about the virus we now know as SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease known as COVID-19, our lab got to work making a test for this virus, knowing that a rapid and accurate test would be the cornerstone of our clinical approach to this threat. Our test was ready to go the day that the FDA allowed us to test, and since then, we have run more than 89,000 SARS-CoV-2 tests and identified more than 8,000 positive patients.

Social distancing, plus our testing that started ahead of essentially all other similar labs in the country, have meant that our “curve” in Washington has been flatter and our patients have been safer, despite the fact that we were hit so hard by the virus so early in its course. Our testing and associated scientific efforts have also meant that we are genome-sequencing all of the viruses we detect to track transmission, supporting clinical trials for treatments and vaccines, and contributing to essentially every conceivable type of COVID-19-related research that is happening right now on earth.

The faculty responsible for the clinical virology laboratory’s testing—Division Head Dr. Keith Jerome and Assistant Director Dr. Alex Greninger, and laboratory manager Greg Pepper—deserve special recognition for their heroic efforts.

However, everyone involved in our effort has been heroic. Every test that comes through UW Medicine has a dedicated clinical faculty or staff member who dons protective equipment to collect a specimen, a specimen-processing technologist who accepts the sample and ensures it is appropriately labeled, a courier who takes it to our central virology laboratory, additional processing technologists who prepare the specimen for testing, testing technologists who perform the test, biomedical informatics staff who ensure that the results are transmitted promptly, and clinical faculty and staff who accept the results and act on them. Dozens of faculty and hundreds of staff in Laboratory Medicine, and thousands more faculty, staff, volunteers and donors associated with UW Medicine make this happen.

Today, if you are a patient at a UW Medicine hospital site, you can get the best SARS-CoV-2 test result on the planet, on average in less than 6 hours from when you have your nose swabbed (or, in certain cases, less than 2 hours), and you will have a world-leading care team using those test results to help you and protect those around you. The reasons for this are many, but most of those reasons are the people who work here.