Thousands of college students got tested for coronavirus across Alabama again Wednesday as a part of the GuideSafe program. It launched 13 testing sites across Alabama, including three in North Alabama.
However, the tests are processed at one lab in Birmingham through the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"The lab is extremely busy," Dr. Sixto Leal, director of microbiology for UAB said. "We are a 24/7 operation to get that 24-48 hour turnaround time for this initiative, and we are working hard to meet this need."
The quick turnaround makes senior Mallorie Davis confident before going back to Auburn.
"I feel safe to go back to school, I'm also ready to go back to school," Davis said.
200,000 college students should be tested in the next four weeks before heading back to college campuses across the state. Dr. George Netto, Chair of UAB's Department of Pathology is confident in their supply, for now.
"The way we design the test is that we are confident that these supplies will be available throughout this period of four weeks," Netto said.
Before opening all 13 sites across Alabama, last week, UAB opened two sites to test out operations. One was in Tuscaloosa, another at UAB. Netto said of the 800 students tested last week, 1.5 percent came back positive.
This gave Netto and his team the confidence to move forward with pool sample testing. IT allows UAB's lab to test at a quicker rate, while utilizing fewer resources.
"With a 1.5 percent incidence rate, if we pool eight samples together, we pool 100 of them. We're expecting 12 of those pools to be positive," Leal said. "Those are 96 individual samples that need to be tested, so if we perform 196 tests, we can report on 800 tests with confidence."
The UAB lab will run state-wide tests in groups of eight. If it comes back positive, then all eight will be tested individually. Otherwise, all eight are presumed negative.
"In terms of accuracy, we've developed a diagnostic test with very high sensitivity so that when we dilute a sample one to 8, which is what we're doing, the sensitivity is still comparable to other FDA approved diagnostic tests," Leal said.
Since all the tests across the state are processed in UAB's lab, the department of pathology reached out for more help.
"We've recruited 17 individuals with exceptional talent to help us with this initiative for pooling," Leal said.
The pool test allows the lab to provide quicker results at a lower cost.
"What we don't talk about a lot is the ability to make the costs per tests much lower," Netto said. "This test is probably 5 to 6 folds cheaper than if we were to use a commercial test.'
Once these four weeks of testing are complete, GuideSafe will continue to offer pool sample testing in case of an outbreak on any campuses.