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Rapid testing equipment for COVID-19 arrives in Walla Walla

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  • 1 min to read
Cepheid GeneXpert

Shelly Serjeant, a lab supervisor at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, works with the new Cepheid GeneXpert rapid-testing equipment.

A rapid testing platform for COVID-19 has arrived in Walla Walla and will likely be ready to process coronavirus labs in about a week.

The Cepheid GeneXpert platform, purchased after the launch late April of a fast-moving public/private partnership, arrived Wednesday at Providence St. Mary Medical Center.

The equipment, when fully functional, will be able to produce test results in 45 minutes rather than send them out of town for processing.

The localization of the service is expected to be critical for public health and the restoration of business and travel restrictions on such things ease.

“That really was the hope and expectation of our donors and public partners — wanting to support the reopening of the economy,” said Lindsey Oldridge, chief philanthropy officer for the Providence St. Mary Foundation, the fundraising arm that coordinated donors and public partners.

Anywhere from seven to 20 tests per day originate at the hospital, though the entire Providence system locally processes 70 to 80 orders per day, Jansen said. For rapid results, tests have traveled to Kadlec Medical Center in Tri-Cities, said Providence St. Mary Lab Director David Jansen.

Before that option became available, some tests were processed in Spokane, while a majority processed through diagnostics firm LabCorp were shipped to Phoenix in order to get results.

St. Mary officials emphasized that priority testing will be for symptomatic patients at the hospital. This is due to the continued nationwide shortage of testing supplies. Those not exhibiting symptoms will likely continue to have test results processed through a reference lab.

“Ultimately our goal is to have all local testing,” Jansen said.

He said the manufacturer is developing a test that will process results in one lab for COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza A and influenza B.

“Flu season complicates everything,” Jansen said. “As more testing comes online we’ll be able to increasingly widen the circle of available testing.”

First though the equipment requires a weeklong validation process, Jansen said.

Fundraising for the $170,000 equipment was anchored by a $50,000 private donation from Dr. Richard Simon, Sleep Center/former General Internist and HIV expert, and Deberah Simon, senior lecturer in chemistry at Whitman College. That followed with a match from Susan Monahan and Mark Brucks.

Additional private donations came in from numerous donors.

From their local government and other agencies committed to funding: The Port of Walla Walla, $30,000; city of Walla Walla, $20,000; city of College Place, $5,000; Walla Walla County Fire District 4, $2,500; Fire District 4 Auxiliary, $1,000; and the Walla Walla County community contributions fund, $20,000.

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Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.