Test tech to help virus fight

Chris Morias  TBW Newsgroup
TESTING FRONTLINE: SA Pathology Mount Gambier laboratory manager Chris Morias says the facility has ordered COVID-19 cartridges for its point-of-care testing machine. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO

Chris Morias TBW Newsgroup
TESTING FRONTLINE: SA Pathology Mount Gambier laboratory manager Chris Morias says the facility has ordered COVID-19 cartridges for its point-of-care testing machine. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO

THE region’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic will be significantly bolstered amid plans to introduce point-of-care pathology testing of the deadly disease at Mount Gambier Hospital.

With COVID-19 pathology samples currently air-freighted to Adelaide, new testing capability is expected at the SA Pathology laboratory late next month to fast-track the process.

This is expected to reduce the testing turnaround time from 48 hours to just 40 minutes.

While the number of Limestone Coast COVID-19 confirmed cases remain at a standstill, health authorities are on tenterhooks whether new cases will emerge.

Health officials have urged residents – who have flu-like symptoms – to be tested for COVID-19 as part of a two-week statewide testing blitz to uncloak any hidden community transmission.

But people are being urged to obtain a general practitioner referral and not just turn up at the COVID-19 drive-through clinic at the hospital.

This follows the hospital being swamped with inquiries yesterday following the broadening of the testing criteria.

SA Pathology Mount Gambier laboratory manager Chris Morias said the facility was waiting for point-of-care machine cartridges to come in from overseas so COVID-19 testing could begin on site.

“The sample goes into each cartridge and we can do four at once,” Mr Morias told The Border Watch yesterday inside the cutting-edge laboratory facility.

While the point-of-care machine took 40 minutes to process the test, he said some additional preparation work was involved.

“If we are doing a test from the emergency department and we get it straight away, it would be probably be 40 minutes to an hour at most,” Mr Morias said.

“This will be great given the current process of sending samples to Adelaide.”

Mr Morias said the SA Pathology centre at Mount Gambier already had a high-tech point-of-care machine, which tested influenza strains.

Limestone Coast Local Health Network executive director of medical services Dr Elaine Pretorius said the point-of-care machine cartridges – which would facilitate COVID-19 testing – were due to arrive late next month.

“Those cartridges you can imagine are pretty hot property across globe at the moment,” Dr Pretorius said.

She said the on-site testing was crucial given it would quickly identify cases to hasten health care and ensure patients were quarantined speedily to prevent community transmission.

While COVID-19 tests were being air-freighted to Adelaide via Regional Express, she said Toll continued to have a daily flight and a courier service was used on weekends.

This follows the regional carrier grounding the majority of its services at Mount Gambier Regional Airport.

She said the lack of daily flights was impacting the hospital given metropolitan-based medical personnel were now forced to drive from Adelaide.

“Most of these health professionals have been marvellous and driving down by car,” Dr Pretorius said.

“The Rex flights are now only on Tuesdays and that is a challenge.”

Dr Pretorius said Adelaide metropolitan hospitals had been sending medical staff to Mount Gambier to boost the hospital’s emergency department.

“We hope Rex will resume more services at some point,” she said.