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VA Rolls Out Faster COVID-19 Test Through Southern California

The San Diego VA Medical Center in La Jolla is shown on Sept. 26, 2019.
Zoë Meyers/inewsource
The San Diego VA Medical Center in La Jolla is shown on Sept. 26, 2019.

Veterans Health Administration hospitals in Southern California have banded together to debut a faster test for COVID-19, to help clear bed space.

Processing tests through VA labs could take up to 15 days to get results, said Jessica Wang-Rodriguez, chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Service for Veteran Integrated Service Network (VISN) 22.

VISN 22 covers the VA territory for Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Early on in the COVID-19 outbreak, the VA region was using the private lab Quest Diagnostics, the Center For Disease Control and eventually incorporated what Wang-Rodriquez described as a “homebrewed test” to detect the virus, which was created by VA technicians in house. The methods still left a backlog of hospitalized patients in isolation, waiting for test results, she said.

“All of the doctors and nurses had to be wearing the full personal protective equipment. And that’s really exhausting and quickly depleting our supplies and stores of personal protective equipment,” Wang-Rodriguez said.

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Recently, the VA region partnered with Roche Pharmaceuticals, which was looking for places to roll out a faster test for COVID-19 — the first approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The new tests can be processed within a few hours. The VA ran 3,100 tests in 10 days at the VA lab in Los Angeles, she said.

“This test only works if you have large batches. I think that’s one of the reasons, Roche and us, we partnered together,” she said.

The VA is now offering testing outside VISN 22.

“We certainly have some capacity. So what’s happening right now is we are extending this offer to other VA health-care systems, outside of VISN. We are also testing multiple state veteran homes, residents,” she said.

The VISN 22 is also part of the network of VA hospitals which the Federal Emergency Management Agency can call on for testing, she said.

In San Diego faster testing has helped clear bed space inside the hospital. VA San Diego has had 21 cases among patients, a smaller percentage than other Southern California VAs.