Surveillance Testing for SARS-CoV-2

Our lab is conducting surveillance testing for SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. We prepare our own kits and then send them out to workers in eldercare facilities across central and northern Colorado. We test all the samples for viral RNA via qRT-PCR and then report our results back to the participating facilities. By helping to identify positive individuals, we hope to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect both patients and workers in these critical environments. This initiative wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Nicole Ehrhart and our partners at CSU’s Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging.

We recognize the limits of testing for viral RNA alone, and so we are simultaneously conducting plaque assays to look for the presence of infectious virus. When serum samples are available, we can also test for previous SARS-CoV-2 infection via the presence of neutralizing antibodies. Such tests are important for helping essential personnel return safely to work.

In addition to public health benefits, surveillance testing has helped us put together a collection of sequential positive SARS-CoV-2 samples from across the state. These samples can be further sequenced and analyzed, leading to an expansion in the available genomic data for the novel coronavirus. This data may help us to better understand the conditions that led to the current outbreak. Our sequencing work was recently incorporated into Nextstrain, an open source project using genomic epidemiology to perform real-time tracking of pathogen evolution. The goal is to improve epidemiological understanding and outbreak response using openly shared data from research groups around the world.

Pictured: Ebel lab personnel transfer potential SARS-CoV-2 samples into lysis buffer.