Adirondack Health, in collaboration with the Trudeau Institute, has opened a high-speed COVID-19 testing laboratory—the first of its kind in the North Country to rely on the most accurate testing technology available.
The laboratory, located at Adirondack Medical Center, began operating last Friday. In its first phase, the lab will process results for 80 to 160 tests a day; in a second phase, the lab will install additional equipment with the ability to handle up to 1,000 tests a day.
“It’s critical for our schools, businesses, nursing homes, and other vital institutions to receive results for COVID-19 tests as quickly as possible,” said Sylvia Getman, president and chief executive of Adirondack Health. “This laboratory gives us the ability to process tests locally, without the delays that can result from sending tests out of the area, or even out of state, to overwhelmed labs.”
“Frequent testing, with accurate, speedy results, is the only way to ensure the Adirondacks and the North Country get the confidence to reopen as safely and sustainably as possible,” said Atsuo Kuki, president of Trudeau Institute. “This is a critical piece of that puzzle. As we enter a third wave of COVID infections, the surest way to guarantee this region has adequate testing capacity to stay open is to build it ourselves.”
The first testing device installed at the lab, made by Rheonix Inc. of Ithaca, is a countertop unit. The lab is staffed by Adirondack Health technicians, who are licensed by the state. One was installed last week; another Rheonix machine is set to arrive next month. At first, the lab will prioritize testing for individuals who need results the fastest, such as first responders, hospital patients, nursing home residents and schoolchildren.
Fundraising continues for the project’s second phase: The purchase of a third, much larger unit that will provide an affordable testing option for North Country healthcare providers, colleges and universities, businesses and others.
The lab’s technology is based on PCR/RNA testing, the technique that delivers the most accurate COVID-19 results. PCR (short for polymerase chain reaction) tests work by duplicating genetic material unique to the virus until enough is present to detect. While some rapid—or antigen—tests are able to return results in under an hour, they are best suited for patients who are already showing symptoms. PCR/RNA tests are 2,500 times more sensitive than antigen tests, and can detect the virus in individuals before any symptoms are present.
“PCR/RNA testing is the gold standard for accurate test results,” said Dr. John Eckel, medical director of Adirondack Medical Center’s Saranac Lake laboratory. “When antigen tests are used with asymptomatic individuals, they can generate false negatives—and, unfortunately, a false sense of confidence.”
Ultimately, the nonprofit lab is expected to achieve self-sustainability with revenue generated from testing. Once the threat of COVID-19 passes, the lab will be able to test for other viruses, such as flu, HIV and HPV. Additionally, Trudeau researchers will be able to use the lab to develop tests for future disease outbreaks.
The lab is expected to cost more than $1 million and has already attracted widespread community support from both public and private sources. Significant donations from the Stoltz Family, Joan and Bill Grabe, Essex County, Thomas McGowan IV, the Uihlein Foundation and the Lower Saranac Lake Shore Owners Association provided a critical foundation for the lab’s creation.