UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – As part of the University’s COVID-19 testing and contact tracing plan, the Testing and Surveillance Center (TASC) will start providing in-house diagnostic COVID-19 testing at the University Park campus.
Penn State applied for and received provisional Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certification to perform COVID-19 diagnostic testing in November and has worked to set up the infrastructure to support testing and faster turnaround time for results.
“The University’s investment in building the infrastructure for this diagnostic laboratory is a testament to its commitment to the health and safety of our community,” said Dr. Jeanne Lumadue, assistant teaching professor in veterinary and biomedical sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences, who is overseeing TASC. “The in-house lab enables us to provide faster PCR [polymerase chain reaction] testing and to report these diagnostic results directly via email to individuals. The sooner positive cases are identified, the sooner individuals can take critical measures – such as quarantining and isolation – and contact tracing can proceed, helping to minimizing disease spread.”
TASC – which was launched in September 2020 as part of the University’s multi-layered testing plan to perform population-level disease surveillance of the University Park campus – began performing diagnostic testing this week and will ramp up testing over the next month, Lumadue said, adding that TASC’s testing capacity has increased significantly, with additional laboratory staff working in multiple shifts.
Similar to last semester, the TASC lab will not be a sample collection site, but will serve as the site where tests are processed. Individuals who are receiving on-demand walk-up testing and surveillance testing after March 1 should check the Virus Information website for the on-campus locations where their swab specimen will be collected.
TASC started processing in-house diagnostic tests for students this week for the University Park on-demand COVID-19 walk-up testing sites. Those seeking an on-demand test will receive a rapid antigen test analyzed on site. If the result is positive, individuals will receive a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test through the TASC lab, with results within generally 24 to 48 hours. University Park employees who are listed in the University’s Return to Work database may also utilize walk-up testing, and TASC will start processing those tests later this semester. However, they are strongly encouraged to order a Vault Health mail-in test kit, when possible.
Beginning March 1 (at the conclusion of the universal required re-testing period during the first two weeks of in-person learning), TASC will continue to perform surveillance testing of the University community through pooled – or group – testing of samples for both efficiency and quicker results, under CDC guidelines. With the new CLIA certification, TASC can individually retest any sample with indeterminate results, removing the need for a secondary test. The CLIA certification also allows TASC to send the PCR diagnostic test results – both COVID-19 positive and negative – directly to the individual as well as the Department of Health. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which approved the CLIA certification, regulates all diagnostic laboratory testing performed on humans in the U.S.
"The infrastructure investment in this CLIA-certified diagnostic laboratory provides a long-term benefit for future research collaborations as well as an additional resource for potential state and local community partnerships, once the immediate COVID-19 concern subsides,” said Andrew Gutberlet, manager of engineering services in Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant, who worked with Lumadue; Cara Exten, assistant professor in the College of Nursing; Dr. Mark Bates, medical director for the University’s Occupational Medicine Program; and others across the University in the multidisciplinary effort to secure the CLIA certification, establish medical testing processes, manage laboratory and testing site staffing, and supply chain, transportation and other logistics.
At the Commonwealth Campuses, on-demand testing processes are defined for each campus and are typically administered by the local health center or other designated area and surveillance testing for both employees and students will be conducted either through Vault Health mail-in tests, or through Vault Health tests distributed on campus.
For the latest updates and information on Penn State’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including frequently asked questions and information specific for students, faculty and staff, visit virusinfo.psu.edu.