20,000 tests: Inside the lab on COVID-19 frontline
THEY are on the frontline of our health district's fight against COVID-19, but they work behind closed doors.
Working long hours, they unlock the crucial information that is helping authorities keep on top of the infection in our area.
They are the NSW Health Pathology Lab in Lismore, and they've hit a milestone of 20,000 tests done from samples as far north as the Queensland border through to the Clarence Valley.
And Microbiology Manager NSW Health Pathology Lismore Glenn Hawkins, he wants to be busier.
"We started testing at the end of March," he said. "Before that, some tests were going to Sydney, and elsewhere.
"Once we started to do the testing, we get faster results out and if there is to be an outbreak, we can get on top of it pretty quickly."
There are two types of testing available, one is a rapid test used for critically ill patients, and the other is a routine test.
"Our labs in Grafton and Tweed Heads also have the rapid test, but we have limited supplies, so it's prioritised," he said.
"With the rapid test, we can only do one at a time, but with our routine test, we can test 45 samples in one batch, and do between 8-10 batches a day."
The vital testing procedure starts with the lab receiving a slip of paper with the patient's details, as well as a tube with the swab that has a liquid in it as well.
"When it gets here, we check all the details are correct, and then we take a portion of the liquid in the tube and it goes through two instruments," Mr Hawkins said.
"The first instrument purifies and concentrates any DNA in there, and the second process amplifies … and detects the presence of the DNA."
The DNA test, known as the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, is the primary type used around the world to detect COVID-19. It differs from other tests for antibodies in that it works for diagnosis at the point of infection, while antibody tests show later.
The tubes are only opened inside a safety cabinet with HEPA filters and air filters, so testers aren't exposed to the infection.
"We also wear full protective clothing such as gowns, masks and gloves," Mr Hawkins said.
"This is what we do every day."
Mr Hawkins said the lab operates from 7am to 10pm, and is currently operating between 300-400 tests per day.
"We're saying that results are available between 24-72 hours and people can get their test results directly," he said.
"They can sign up for an SMS notification after the test, and that's the easiest way to get results."
There is no sign of the workload slowing for the lab with people showing any symptoms urged to get tested at one of the many clinics through the health district.
"Even if you got tested last week, and you've developed new symptoms, go and get tested," Mr Hawkins said.