GREAT FALLS — In just a few short weeks, Alluvion Health's lab in Great Falls will be busy processing saliva from University of Providence students and staff to test them for COVID-19.
"We've partnered with them on a specific testing method that will be exclusively used for just (the) University of Providence for a period of time and then we'll open it up to the general public,” said Zac Griffin, Alluvion Health chief operating officer.
The partnership has allowed Alluvion to buy a machine to test saliva. Currently, testing samples are taken by sticking a long swab up the nose of the person getting tested.
Griffin said the goal of the partnership is to bring students and staff back safely after Christmas break. "It'll be a lot simpler, and actually for transporting it's ll be a lot easier. Then, also, for testing all the volume we need at University of Providence it just makes that logistics so much easier,” Griffin explained.
Once testing starts, results should come back quickly, as Alluvion just recently got equipment to run COVID tests in its lab. Current turnaround time is one to two days.
"We definitely feel confident that this approach is in alignment with best practices,” said Brittany Budeski, University of Providence registrar.
Budeski said a lack of external funding was a big reason the partnership only just now developed. "We had to get creative and what led us in part of that creativity was just a great team of people who were willing to think outside the box,” said Budeski.
Testing will be available on campus when students return January 4th. Any student or staff member coming back to campus for the spring semester will be required to quarantine for 10 days and get tested for COVID-19.
The saliva testing at this point is only available for UP students and staff, but they hope to expand it to others in the community at some point.
A news release from UP says that Adlera Lab, which is a certified diagnostic lab owned and operated by Alluvion Health, will utilize a qPCR machine to process up to 344 saliva samples per day for the detection of COVID-19. This process is less intrusive than the traditional respiratory swabs, and the utilization of saliva tests - as opposed to traditional swabs - allows trained University personnel to collect samples on-site. It also enables Alluvion Health staff to continue providing community testing to the residents.
The news release states: "The technology is a real-time qPCR machine that processes saliva samples, instead of the more intrusive respiratory swabs, with very accurate, timely results. The university engaged in this partnership as a way to serve the needs of its students as they return to campus, but also to supply the community with access to this type of testing."
“Since the laboratory capacity is a critical limiting factor to testing, an additional RT-qPCR instrument could easily double the lab’s output leading to a quicker test to result time,” said S. Diane Lund, the Faculty Program Lead for Masters of Science Infection Prevention & Epidemiology. “Those who are infected do not typically show symptoms until day five, so if testing happens before symptoms appear and we get a quick result, we might be able to isolate individuals before they infect too many people.”
Trista Besich, CEO of Alluvion Health and Adlera Lab, said, “The partnership with University of Providence underscores the shared passion Adlera Lab, Alluvion Health, and the University of Providence have for our community. The ability to increase testing capability and decrease turnaround times is so impactful on individual patients and their confidence in our community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our ability to provide those services locally creates tremendous opportunity to adapt our response to local needs, while still supporting the statewide demand for testing capacity and decreased turnaround. We know waiting for answers can be stressful and overwhelming, this partnership will be tremendously impactful and the benefits will be immediately noticeable.”