Delaware State University COVID-19 testing lab opens
WILMINGTON – Today, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, Delaware State University President Tony Allen, Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester cut the ribbon and formally opened Delaware State University’s new genomics testing lab.
Since announcing the partnership and New Castle County’s $5.5 million investment in early November, DSU has received critical laboratory hardware, made key hires, earned regulatory approval, and retrofitted 5,600 square feet of the Kirkwood Highway campus to laboratory space.
This month, the lab began testing DSU’s athletic teams, and will soon begin processing tests for the whole student body. By mid-February, New Castle County hopes to purchase testing capacity from the new facility, as do Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and University of Maryland Eastern Shore, both prominent Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The laboratory leadership has bold goals, aiming for processing 3,000 tests per day by March, while bringing the cost of processing those tests from $150 to under $10 per test. The lab will also be able to deliver same-day testing results consistently.
Delaware State University has hired four people who are currently staffing the lab, with salaries ranging from $40,000 to 80,000 a year. The goal is to have a staff of 10 full-time employees from DSU. Supplementing the full-time staff will be for students to gain hands-on, real-world learning experience in genomics. Staff are responsible for processing tests, adhering to safety protocols, and ensuring best practices.
The collaboration between New Castle County and DSU aims to achieve a reduction of cost and time required to process COVID-19 tests, keep more of the money New Castle County has spent outsourcing for test results, increasing the scientific capabilities of Delaware State University, making the lab a regional hub for testing, while helping New Castle County prepare for future pandemics.
“We work every day to increase COVID-19 testing capacity, to process tests more efficiently, to get a better deal for taxpayers and to enhance the capabilities of local universities,” said County Executive Matt Meyer in a statement. “We formed this partnership to address all four of those goals. This will be an important lab for public health and scientific innovation for both residents of the County and the DSU family.”
“This project was conceived out of the necessity for faster and more affordable testing. Being locally-based cuts days off the time that it currently takes to ship samples to other labs across the country,” said Delaware State University president Dr. Tony Allen in a statement. “We are also using a simpler testing protocol that cuts down on costs. This partnership truly represents a win/win for the County and DSU while bringing much-needed jobs to the region.”
“Knowledge is power. This lab will empower the people of Delaware to quickly know their status and respond in ways that will limit the spread of this disease,” remarked DSU’s Dr. Derrick Scott, who oversees the laboratory operation.
Delaware State has purchased and installed critical equipment to help reach those testing goals. They include four Thermo Fisher test processing instruments, two Illumina genome sequencers, which will be used to sequence new variants of the virus, and one Beckman Coulter robotics platform that will allow the lab to scale testing, which will arrive in early February.
“When Delaware’s Congressional Delegation voted for the CARES Act to provide funding to our states and communities, we knew it would take collaborative, creative partnerships like this one between New Castle County and Delaware State University to make these taxpayer dollars stretch further,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper in a statement. “Through this lab, we can increase testing capacity at a lower cost while providing good-paying jobs. That’s a win-win!”
“While we work to vaccinate more Delawareans, we must remain focused on measures like widespread testing and mask-wearing to stop further spread of COVID-19,” U.S. Senator Chris Coons said in a statement. “This federally-funded genomics lab, made possible through the CARES Act, will help expand affordable, efficient, and reliable testing here in Delaware. Having local lab space at DSU in New Castle County will improve both the cost of testing and turnaround time for results, which will help us get back to normal.”
“When our Congressional delegation went to work to secure funds for COVID relief, one of our top priorities was ensuring that state and local governments had the flexibility they needed to put those funds to their best use,” said Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester in a statement. “That’s because we knew we had local leaders at home like County Executive Matt Meyer and Delaware State University President, Dr. Tony Allen. This partnership represents an exciting opportunity to expedite testing, ensure a safe learning environment for DSU students, and create good-paying jobs. I want to thank all of the project’s partners for their work and look forward to seeing the impact this lab has on our community.”