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Lab staff create testing ‘workaround’

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Public health officials tackled problems with Covid-19 testing materials by making their own, it was revealed yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said that staff at Government laboratories produced a viral transport medium — a way to preserve samples for analysis — “to combat the global shortage”.

She explained: “Testing capacity is limited when there is a shortage.”

David Burt, the Premier, told a press conference last week that, despite a delivery of swabs and VTM, problems were encountered during the validation process.

He said on April 13: “We ended up with a shortage.”

Mr Burt added that instructions from Government leaders were to test rest home residents but “realities on the ground” meant that the necessary VTM was unavailable.

He explained that public health officers spent their Easter weekend on the creation of a “workaround, which was endorsed by the World Health Organisation”.

Mr Burt said that the team managed to “mock up and put these things in place so that we were able to do that testing”.

The Premier added: “Our health officers are improvising on the front line on any given day.”

The Government said last week that two Covid-19 testing centres — the Helix Laboratory, which “pioneered” testing in Bermuda and the Government's new Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory — meant the island could carry out more than 200 tests a day.

It added that when the laboratories were fully staffed they could run more than 900 tests every day.

Mr Burt said last Sunday that “out of an abundance of caution” 190 samples had been taken that day from people in six government quarantine centres before they returned to their homes.

He added: “The MDL will complete the tests and supply the results to the Ministry of Health this evening.”

The Premier confirmed on Monday that the total number of people tested at quarantine centres was 209 — “an incredible feat”.

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, explained then: “Preliminary results have been received and those persons who tested positive will be advised of their status by a public health officer or their physician.

“Persons who tested negative will be able to leave the quarantine facility from 2pm on Tuesday upon completion of their 14-day quarantine.

“They will remain under public health supervision and self-quarantine at home for a further 14 days.

“Persons who tested positive will be required to quarantine at a government quarantine facility for an additional 14 days and will remain under active public health monitoring, including daily temperature checks and phone contact by a public health officer.”

The Royal Gazette asked if the time for test results to be obtained had reduced. The maximum turnaround time for tests on the island was earlier understood to be 48 hours.

Mr Burt said that the process could “technically” be completed “in about four hours”.

He explained on Monday that the longer period of 24 to 48 hours accounted for the difference between the time that testing took place and when the results were reported to the public.

Mr Burt added: “Once the lab gets the test it takes about four to five hours in order to process those results.”

Vital workers: public health analyst Jason Iris, left, senior public health analyst Andresa Bashir, and lab assistant Jade Belboda (Photograph supplied)
Doctors and nurses pictured at the weekend preparing to swab individuals who are scheduled for release from quarantine (Photograph supplied)
Doctors and nurses pictured at the weekend preparing to swab individuals who are scheduled for release from quarantine (Photograph supplied)
Helping to make the viral transport medium are senior public health analyst Andresa Bashir; public health analyst Jason Iris; and lab technician Janeigh Burgess in the foreground (Photograph supplied)
Helping to make the viral transport medium is lab assistant Jade Belboda (Photograph supplied)

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Published April 22, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 22, 2020 at 7:57 am)

Lab staff create testing ‘workaround’

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