Catholic Health hopes to aid in raising COVID-19 testing capabilities across region

Posted at 6:36 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 18:36:59-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Monday morning Catholic Health Systems took a significant step in making Western New York a premier testing site for COVID-19.

It placed a massive 24,000 count order for the newly FDA approved rapid testing kits for COVID-19.

The testing kits, if approved for distribution, would allow the hospital system to use existing equipment to test up to 800 kits per day without adding any staff, according to its CEO/President Mark Sullivan.

The tests give results in 45 minutes.

But, placing the order was just the first step — the company Cepheid, has to approve which locations it will distribute the materials to across the nation.

There are two factors that a laboratory needs to complete testing: the actual test, and then the test sample collection kits.

Cepheid has created the tests and is in the process of developing collection kits to send to facilities, according to Sullivan’s understanding.

“We’re relying on Cepheid to give us those kits,” said Sullivan. “If they can’t, that’s where I’ve asked the state and the federal government to step in and give us the kits to compliment the tests.”

At 8 a.m. Monday morning, Cepheid opened its order lines for the test that was approved Saturday by the FDA — that’s when Catholic Health System’s jumped online to place its multi-million dollar order for the supplies.

Catholic Health is using its funds to pay for the tests.

It was a two-part order for the kits because of the supply cap the company places on its items, but Catholic Health wanted the distributer to see the demand was high in Western New York.

“Everyone in the world now wants these tests,” said Sullivan. “We’re trying to make sure when they look around the world, and they look around the country, they know Catholic Health wants 24,000 tests.”

If the order is processed and shipped, it will be a so-called game-changer for testing in our region.

“In two months, we will have done more testing at Catholic Health — if the elected officials and Cepheid provide the resources to us — that the state has done here to date.”

Sullivan is urging elected officials to back up his requests for the supplies as the Governor continues to look for what he calls “numbers” to understand where the need is for resources across New York.

“You go where the need is,” said Cuomo during a Monday morning press briefing. “You follow the signs; you follow the numbers, you listen to the data.”

Sullivan says the hospital system is committed to sharing the test results and all the data with neighboring county health departments.

“They have a different testing platform, so they’re doing a great job with the platform they have, but we want them to utilize Catholic Health. We’re at your service, but you guys are the experts in defending public health.”

The hospital system plans to follow the CDC guidelines to prioritize testing, even with an increased capacity.

“Testing should not be for the ‘worried well’, it should be for people that are compromised, so we can determine the level of treatment that they need to save their life.”

These are the same guidelines Erie County plans to follow as it recently got a new shipment of regents in late Monday afternoon.

We asked the county whether it could keep up with the amount of data 800 tests per day would produce — County Executive Mark Poloncarz praised the pledged partnership with Catholic Health, but said it would be a challenge.

“So if they test… let’s say 800 a day, and they got 400 positive — that would cause a huge overload on our epidemiologists and how they’re able to respond appropriately if we had hundreds of more cases daily.”

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said that much information would require adjustments to how the county operates and informs the public about positive cases.

“Our healthcare system could get overwhelmed,” she said, “If we get overwhelmed if we get several hundred a day, we’re not going to be able to be as thorough and as vigilant with asking people to be in isolation and quarantine.”

Cepheid is having meetings to determine which orders it plans to approve.