Here’s a behind the scenes look at a COVID-19 testing lab in North Carolina


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – For a couple of weeks now, long lines of cars have stretched around the parking lot inching their way to tents set up outside StarMed on Tuckaseegee Road. Everyone wants their results as quickly as they can get them.

Sarah Harris leads the laboratory operations for StarMed Healthcare. She and her growing team work to get those results back in 24 to 36 hours. On average, the Tuckaseegee site is processing between 750 and 1,500 tests a day. The lab has the ability to process more than 2,500 tests per day.

“I think COVID has shown how important the laboratory is for the medical community,” said Harris about the data so many people want.

The testing facility and collection site are at the same location. Members of the StarMed team walk test samples about 100 feet to the laboratory where they are put in the queue.

The team can process around 100 samples in a batch at a time. Team members extract the viral material from the tests. The trays are then loaded into a machine for processing. There is quite a bit of paperwork involved in every test.

 “We were really poised to be able to ramp up quickly and fill a need for the community,” said Harris

The clinic opened the lab as a low complexity lab and at the end of 2019 transitioned into a high complexity lab. The company invested in laboratory equipment to process respiratory at STD tests.

“We can run more tests but it was meant to be something to improve patient experience but it put us in the position to do high volume COVID testing out of our facility,” said Mike Estramonte, the CEO of StarMed Healthcare.

As testing ramped up, DHHS contacted StarMed to process tests for around 20 counties across the state.

While there is no playbook for COVID testing, Estramonte says his team learned a lot through the Thanksgiving rush.

“We learned a lot from our through-put. If we have the same volume we are going to be quicker with our results even if we have twice the volume,” said Estramonte.

When volume increases, his team will add more tents. The company hired more employees to work a third shift keeping the lab open until two or three in the morning. There is also a storage trailer for some of the data input associated with testing. Expanding in that way will make room for refrigeration units that will be able to store vaccines.

Right now, the positivity rate for the tests that are processed in the West Charlotte lab is around 15 percent, which can fluctuate from day to day or week to week. That is a number that Harris would like to see drop.

Both Harris and Estramonte are proud of the team that is working around the clock to get people the answers they need. They do expect the demand for testing to pick back up as the Christmas holidays approach.

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