Atlantic Health to begin rapid screening for COVID-19 variants

The hospitals in Atlantic Health System will be among the first in the region to rapidly screen for key COVID-19 variants — a test that not only will lead to better treatment, but provide insight into how and where viral variants are spreading within New Jersey, system officials said.

This week, Atlantic Health will begin surveillance testing for COVID-19 variants for population health using internally developed PCR-based tests, as well as partnering with Seegene — using its recently developed, research-use variant detection multiplex tests.

The test will rapidly screen for multiple variants — specifically the U.K., Brazilian and South African variants. Atlantic Health plans to continue developing tests to identify additional strains, including the New York and California variants.

This test, performed through a PCR assay, searches for the genetic material of viruses such as COVID-19.

Atlantic Health CEO Brian Gragnolati said the test allows Atlantic Health to take a patient’s sample and not only determine whether they are positive for the virus, but whether they have one of these variants, all within a matter of hours.

“Since the start of the pandemic, rapid testing has remained one of the most important and elusive tools we have,” he said. “Similar to the challenges we faced with testing for the original strain last spring, the inability to quickly identify variants makes it difficult to track their spread. Using this new genetic test, Atlantic Health is leading the way in protecting our community.”

Testing will be done in-house at Atlantic Consolidated Laboratory, which earlier this year began performing all COVID-19 testing in-house, dramatically reducing the time needed to provide results to patients.

Dr. Lisa McFarlane, director of laboratory services for Atlantic Health System, said the labs currently run between 1,500 and 2,000 COVID tests per day.

“We have dramatically enhanced our capabilities with the most advanced and reliable testing for COVID-19, which has helped us streamline and facilitate care,” she said. “Being able to detect variants is the next step in caring for our patients, while keeping our caregivers and facilities safe.”