Those awaiting COVID-19 test results won’t have to wait as long now that new rapid testing equipment has rolled out to Spectrum Health hospitals. Changed guidelines may also allow for more people to be tested.

“This is a big step in our continued fight against this deadly virus,” said Susan Smith, senior director of laboratory services at Spectrum Health. “This will give us better access throughout all of our communities for those urgent testing needs.”

COVID-19 test results will be available at each location, reducing delays in results due to specimen transport and laboratory testing.

Spectrum Health started COVID-19 testing March 23 and has tested more than 5,000 patients in West Michigan. Prior to that, starting in early March, Spectrum Health sent specimens for testing to a commercial lab, ViraCor, and to the State of Michigan.

The arrival of the new rapid test equipment expands testing capabilities. Instead of waiting a day or longer for results, they’ll be available in about two hours.

Smith said a key benefit of quicker results will be a decrease in holding patients in isolation who eventually turn out to be negative for the virus that causes COVID-19. In some cases, this will allow them to return home.

Adam Caulfield, PhD, technical director of Spectrum Health Microbiology Lab, agreed.

“The vast majority of patients who are getting tested because they do meet the symptoms are still negative for this particular virus,” he said. “Patients will get that negative answer sooner and it could mean changes in isolation precautions if they’re an inpatient as well as reducing the need for PPE, which is in very short supply.”

The purchase and deployment of the new equipment follows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of the Abbott molecular ID Now COVID-19 testing product.

“We feel very fortunate that we were able to get both the instruments, which weren’t previously in our system, as well as a fairly healthy allocation of testing supplies,” Dr. Caulfield said.

In addition to the enhanced testing capacity, more people who previously wouldn’t qualify for testing may now be able to be tested for COVID-19. Currently, a medical provider screens all patients to determine whether they should be tested for COVID-19.

Until just recently, those patients showing severe symptoms, hospital inpatients and high-risk employees were prioritized in the screening process. Now, Spectrum Health is able to broaden the criteria of patients eligible for testing.

To align with Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recommendations, Spectrum Health may now test patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms, as the supply of specimen collection kits and testing equipment allow. This continues to be a dynamic situation and is assessed daily.

“The big highlight is the spread of testing across the system,” Dr. Caulfield said.

The test uses a deep nasal swab to collect the specimen.

Mobile test units will be deployed in each Spectrum Health regional hospital lab, including United, Kelsey, Pennock, Zeeland, Gerber, Ludington, Big Rapids and Reed City hospitals. Additional units are also being added at Blodgett Hospital, at Spectrum Health Lakeland in St. Joseph and in the Spectrum Health Regional Lab in Grand Rapids.

Testing will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at each location.

Spectrum Health continues to offer free virtual COVID-19 screenings to those who have symptoms. The phone or virtual screenings help prevent the spread of illness by enabling people to seek the information they need from their homes, while making it easy and convenient for them.

People in the state of Michigan who are experiencing symptoms may call the Spectrum Health hotline at 833.734.0013 to be scheduled for a free virtual screening. Anyone with severe or life-threatening symptoms should call 911.