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Renown sets up new COVID-19 lab equipment for faster, more accurate testing

By Sudhiti Naskar
Renown COVID testing area

In May, Renown Regional Medical Center set up a new lab for COVID-19 testing. Mary Ashmore, a clinical lab supervisor, gave This Is Reno a tour, highlighting some of the latest lab advancements. According to Renown, new state-of-the-art lab equipment helps generate faster test results, reducing processing time and the margin of error.

“When the virus first broke out, we did not have the ability to test here. We would send all our results to the state [lab]. Since then, we have made a lot of progress,” said Ashmore. 

Ashmore explained how the facility works. The lab is divided into two parts with different security and safety measures in place. 

Renown’s new Roche Cobas 6800, installed to process COVID-19 tests. Image: Sudhiti Naskar

The newly acquired Roche Cobas 6800 is fully automated equipment for diagnostics and is installed in a high security zone because of the sensitive nature of tests. It has the ability to process 1,440 tests a day, according to official claims by the manufacturer. Ashmore said that Renown is running 94 tests at a time using the machine. 

The bulk testing helps Nevada’s community as there has been a nationwide shortage of qualified medical professionals to run the tests since the pandemic broke out. Renown is running several hundred tests every day. 

How reliable are the test results?

“The tests are very reliable. I wouldn’t be running the tests on my patients if I wouldn’t run it on myself,” said Ashmore. 

The rate of accuracy is 98% to 99%, she said. The machine does PCR testing, short for polymerase chain reaction, that is considered the “gold standard” of testing, Ashmore added. PCR testing amplifies trace amounts of genetic material, such as those of the virus, to detect it within the sample.

“The PCR is so sensitive, so that even the smallest traces of the virus” get detected, Ashmore said. 

“Instrument 6800 is an elite category, very reliable, very dependable,” said added. “It’s been in my plan to have this for quite a while. Because of COVID we are finally able to get it on board.”

Expanding care to reduce disparities

“By expanding our COVID-19 testing capabilities through new and advanced machinery, along with an increased laboratory staff, we have been able to make testing more accessible to all members of our community,” said a Renown spokesperson. “According to the American Hospital Association, the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting our Black, Indigenous and people of color communities. Black and Latino Americans are three times more likely than white people to contract COVID-19.” 

Renown said these expanded testing capabilities provide greater access to individuals in the community that may not have been able to get COVID-19 testing before. It’s relying on community partnerships to get the word out.

A sample to be tested for COVID-19 in Renown's new laboratory.
A sample to be tested for COVID-19 in Renown’s new laboratory. Image: Sudhiti Naskar

“We’ve partnered with area church pastors, the City of Reno, the City of Sparks, the Washoe County School District, REMSA to address the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and provide free COVID-19 testing to area residents,” Renown’s spokesperson said. 

Pastor Cesar Minera worked with Renown to coordinate the first drive-through/walk-up test site on Saturday, Sept. 26. The event, which served 84 people, was open to members of Ministerio Palabra de Vida (Word of Life Ministries) and A.M.E.N. (Asociacion de Ministros Evangelicos de Nevada), a network of over 15 churches in the Reno, Sparks and the Carson City area, as well as Washoe County School District  students and families living in the area.

How is the set up going to reflect on insurance or patients’ bills?

For those who have insurance, COVID-19 testing is covered. 

“We’re asking patients with insurance to request a medical lab order from their doctor to be tested at our drive-through location. For uninsured patients who attend one of our testing events, there is no cost to be tested thanks to the Renown Community Benefits fund,” said a Renown statement.

Ashmore also pointed out that the medical professionals and their families are suffering from the effects of pandemic as much as others, and in these trying times “we are all just very happy to be able to provide this [testing facility] to the community to take care of them and it makes us really happy that we are able to take care of each other,” she said.

Update: This story was updated to indicate that Renown has been processing COVID-19 tests since May and that the new feature is the equipment. The number of people served at the drive-through testing event was also added.

Read more news about COVID-19 in Reno


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