Huntsville lab increases staff, equipment to keep up with increase in demand for coronavirus testing

Currently, Diatherix processes tests for 31 states around the country with Alabama accounting for about 17 percent of its workload.

Posted: Jul 2, 2020 10:38 PM
Updated: Jul 2, 2020 10:59 PM

It's been a long time since folks at Diatherix Eurofins had what they would describe as a "slow day." 

After WAAY 31 visited the facility on the campus of HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in late April, the lab went from processing about 3,000 to 4,000 tests per day up to about 7,000 to 8,000. In fact, one day last week they had about 10,000 tests pass through their lab.

Technicians at Diatherix Eurofins work to process coronavirus tests on Thursday, July 2, 2020. The laboratory is continuously working to expand its capacity to process tests in order to keep up with rising demand. Technicians at Diatherix Eurofins work to process coronavirus tests on Thursday, July 2, 2020. The laboratory is continuously working to expand its capacity to process tests in order to keep up with rising demand.

Currently, Diatherix processes tests for 31 states around the country with Alabama accounting for about 17 percent of its workload.

Dr. Jeff Wisotzkey, the chief scientific officer and laboratory director at Diatherix, said the growth in demand was faster than initially anticipated. So they sped up their timeline to meet that demand.

"We're seeing a real, rapid ramp up in the testing requests and we're trying to manage our capacity so that we can handle the requests as they come our way," Dr. Wisotzkey said.

He said the lab technicians work many long hours these days in order to keep pace with the demand. Right now, they're in the process of looking at adding additional staff as well as some robotics to further increase their capacity.

"I've never worked with people that were more dedicated to getting the job done. We ask a lot of them and they're doing it. It's incredible," Dr. Wisotzkey said.

Over the rest of the summer, Diatherix is adding in equipment and renovating an 11,000-square-foot space in a separate building that will allow them to further expand the amount of testing they can handle each day.

In addition to diagnostic testing, there are plenty of other facilities that are currently doing antibody tests. While data is still being gathered about the implications of having antibodies to this coronavirus, it is allowing places, like LifeSouth, to offer the opportunity for those who have antibodies to donate convalescent plasma.

Isaiah Burgin donated blood more than two weeks ago and got tested for antibodies. When he learned on Wednesday that he had them, he scheduled an appointment for the next day to make a plasma donation. 

"If this plasma could be used to treat them and get them well, then I thought it was probably my civic duty to come out and try to help those people out," Burgin said.

And as the technicians continued to plug away Thursday afternoon, Dr. Wisotzkey said the best way the public can thank them for what they're doing is for everyone to do their part in helping to slow the spread of the virus. Those include good hand hygiene, staying physically distant from others and wearing a mask in public. 

"Our folks are exhausted and working almost every day. They're putting in long hours and that would be the message that they would give to our community," Dr. Wisotzkey said.

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