Q&A: Hackensack Meridian Health on CDI’s coronavirus test

Hackensack Meridian Health released the following information regarding the rapid response coronavirus test developed by its Center for Discovery and Innovation.

Q: How does the new test speed up the process of diagnosing COVID-19?

A: Following clinical evaluation of a patient, physicians at Hackensack Meridian Health can obtain a highly reliable result in hours. If it’s positive, the isolated patient is treated immediately. If it’s negative, the patient avoids unnecessary time in isolation and the hospital. The current process involves consulting with the state Department of Health and sending test results to the state lab in central New Jersey. This process can take a day or two, because the facility is processing all suspected cases in the state. Network experts would still notify the state as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of positive results, but the notification won’t impact treatment decisions.

Q: When will the test be in use in your health network?

A: The CDI has obtained an Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use the test. This fast-track system is used to approve new drugs or new indications for previously approved drugs or devices during an emergency. For example, the FDA issued Emergency Use Authorizations to make available diagnostic and therapeutic tools to identify and respond to the 2009 swine flu outbreak.

The New Jersey Department of Health also approved the test. Last week, CDI researchers received live virus and viral RNA — a major step toward validating the test. The test is now in limited use at Hackensack Meridian Health hospitals.

Q: Who can get tested?

A: The testing will be available on a limited basis at first: The priority will be patients at Hackensack Meridian Health hospitals who are experiencing severe symptoms. There are clinical criteria, which the CDC has established, which the network adheres to. Experts expect to test 24 patients every eight hours during the initial phase of testing at the network.

What we don’t want is a lot of patients showing up to be tested because they don’t feel well. Patients experiencing symptoms that may include fever, cough and/or shortness of breath should contact their physicians. The CDC believes symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. A great option for New Jersey residents is to schedule an online visit for just $20. Go to ConvenientCareNow.com and use promo code HMH20.

Q: Why is it so important for Hackensack Meridian Health to do its own testing?

A: As New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network, with 17 hospitals and more than 500 patient care locations, it’s important to have accurate and rapid testing because it really becomes a triage tool. It not only benefits patients; it helps the entire health care team assess how to best manage patients. Is the patient going into isolation? Who have they had contact with? We want to have more control over what’s happening to patients in our network.

Additionally, by having our own test, we will ease the burden of the New Jersey State Department of Health lab, which is currently doing all of the testing in New Jersey.

Q: How does this test compare to the CDC test?

A: The CDC test is a good test, but it’s not perfect. We learned that a very prominent research group in Germany had developed a test, which was ultimately approved by the World Health Organization. We then married some elements of both tests to produce what we believe is a highly reliable test — and one that will yield results on site and faster.

The CDC kits sent out nationwide in February included a faulty component. However, the agency has enhanced testing capability. On March 9, the CDC announced that it now has the testing capacity in 78 state and local health labs across all 50 states to test for the coronavirus. There are now 75,000 lab kits cumulatively to test for COVID-19, with more coming, the CDC said.

Q: Will Hackensack Meridian Health share the test with other networks and hospitals?

A: Beyond this preliminary stage, our goal is to capitalize on the technology and find ways to expand its use throughout the region and across the nation.

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