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Nova Scotia microbiology lab ramps up testing: ‘It’s tiring, it’s busy and it never stops’

Nova Scotia biologists working around the clock to test COVID-19
WATCH: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic biologists in the province have been working around the clock, testing samples and providing us with accurate up to date information. As Jeremy Keefe reports, they’ve now ramped up their testing.

As the need to test for cases of COVID-19 increases, the microbiology laboratory at the QEII Health Sciences Centre is boosting its capacity to do so, going from around 200 per day to twice that recently.

“Our goal is to try to process every sample that comes into this lab in a 24-hour basis,” explained Charles Heinstein, technical manager of microbiology.

“That may be a lofty goal but that is our goal.”

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A number of factors have contributed to the successful transition toward the ramped-up efforts that have seen the local lab become the testing facility for the entire province.

They include increased staffing of another eight to 10 workers and adopting an assembly-line approach to testing.

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The process is divided into four steps: processing, extracting, thermocycling and reporting.

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Staff are trained on a single section which makes for quicker learning times rather than completing the entire process start to finish.

Heinstein admits it makes for a busy day but everyone involved knows how important the work they’re doing is and are rallying together to keep up with the increased demand.

“We work very hard to meet these challenges and as the resources get provided to us we use them as best we can,” he said.

“It’s tiring, it’s busy and it never stops.”

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While Heinstein indicated that a pandemic of this size has brought on a “volume of testing unlike anything they’ve seen,” he says their work during the H1N1 outbreak helped prepare them for the work they’re doing now.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons from that and one of the lessons is you need a pandemic plan,” he said. “And you need to actually action that pandemic plan.”

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Referring to the task at hand as a marathon, not a sprint, Heinstein indicated their planning goes months into the future.

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He believes they’re in good shape to keep the new status quo for that length of time and if needed they’ll regroup down the road.

“We’re really conscious of the amount of toll this takes on staff so we are going to try our best to make sure they’re fresh and ready for this,” he explained. “They’re the resource we’re leaning on to accomplish this.”