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Local COVID-19 infections could be confirmed in as little as 24 hours when a new testing lab at Fresno State comes on line in the days ahead.

The state-licensed lab, housed at the university’s Jordan Agricultural Research Center, can test between 40-60 specimens a day. It will analyze samples collected elsewhere, but will not offer in-person testing services.

Governor Newsom has urged all Californians to meet this important moment in our lives. And we are pleased to answer that call,” Fresno State President Joseph Castro said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

The project is a collaboration between the school and Fresno County.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Fresno County reported 251 cases of COVID-19, with seven deaths and 53 recoveries.

Lab Will Lead to Quicker Results

“Getting them the answers that they need about whether they have that COVID infection or not is really just something that I think as a public service, it’s our responsibility to try to make that as fast as possible.”Dr. Rais Vohra

Interim Health Director Dr. Rais Vohra said the new lab will help local officials manage the pandemic more effectively.

“We will be able to test dozens of specimens every day on people who will very rapidly know whether or not they have the COVID infection,” Vohra said. “That will actually guide many different decisions related to their medical care and and other and other items related to the rest of the pandemic response.”

Vohra said test results will now be available much faster than before. Previously, Fresno County samples were either sent to a private lab, or public labs in Tulare or Richmond. Getting answers back could take three days or longer, he said.

A speedy result could also help preserve the amount of protective gear hospital staff use.

Whenever you have a patient that’s waiting for a test, if they’re hospitalized … we have to assume that they are COVID positive,” Vohra said.

A negative result means less PPE-use.

“Getting them the answers that they need about whether they have that COVID infection or not is really just something that I think as a public service, it’s our responsibility to try to make that as fast as possible,” Vohra said.

While unable to provide an exact number, Vohra said “a few hundred” tests are performed each day by the Public Health Dept. and private doctors.

COVID-19 testing equipment in a new lab at Fresno State. The lab is a collaboration between the university and the Fresno County Department of Public Health. (Photo courtesy of Fresno State)

State of the Art Lab

“Governor Newsom has urged all Californians to meet this important moment in our lives. And we are pleased to answer that call.”Fresno State President Joseph Castro

Castro said the lab at the Jordan Building was chosen because it is available, and provides state-of-the-art conditions needed for testing. Some of the features include proper ventilation, biosafety controls and suitable workspaces for lab technicians.

The lab will be staffed by five technicians and a lab director, supplied by the school and reimbursed by the county. Equipment cost $206,000 which will be paid with a state grant.

Vohra said the lab is expected to begin testing specimens as soon as next week. He anticipates it will be open for at least 90 days.

Local Lab Needed

The Fresno State lab will be the first public health COVID-19 testing facility in the county. Currently, the county is using private labs and the facility in Tulare County. The state has 22 testing labs in place.

“This lab reflects one of the many steps that will be required to get us on the road to recovery,” Vohra said.

Fresno County’s former public health lab in the Brix-Mercer Building in downtown Fresno flooded in 2018 and is unusable.

Supervisor Buddy Mendes and Public Health Director David Pomaville thought of the idea to approach Fresno State to use their facilities.

We always had a great relationship with Fresno State,” Mendes said. “I cannot stress the importance that Fresno State has been on this project, on this deal to actually let us in here.”

A COVID-19 specimen collection kit is displayed at the new Fresno State testing lab. (Photo courtesy of  Fresno State)

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