UNC Medical Center Lab looking to raise COVID-19 testing to 500 tests per day

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's been one month since coronavirus testing started at the UNC Medical Center Lab in Chapel Hill.

Testing is a critical component of Governor Cooper's plan to get North Carolina's economy up and running again.

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Since mid-March, there have been 5,000 coronavirus tests run at UNC.

The lab is now doing 200 to 300 per day versus 100 when they first started. They could ramp that up to 500.

Duke said it has gotten results for more than 9,700 tests. Six percent at Duke have come back positive versus seven percent at UNC.

"It's a marathon not a sprint," said Dr. Melissa Miller, director of the clinical molecular microbiology laboratory at UNC Hospitals. "Even though it does seem that we're flattening the curve by all of the social distancing measures we're doing and closure of a lot of schools, it's not gone. We still have a curve. It's just lower."

In the same way, there is concern about overloading intensive care units at hospitals around the country, the same is the case for the lab, according to Dr. Miller.

They still are only testing patients in the UNC Health system who present COVID-19 like symptoms. The same goes for Duke. She also believes more people in general need to be tested across the country.

"We want to make sure we're thoughtful about that process and not open the flood gates too early and then we're not able to do testing," she said. "It would be very hard on our laboratory. We've gone to a 24/7 operation."

Right now, UNC has three different coronavirus tests-- Dr. Miller said that has to do with supply issues and shortages of things like swabs and reagents so they've diversified.

"For us to have three tests is not normal," she said. "This is not normal for us and I have colleagues that have written up 4, 5 and 6 tests."

She's most concerned about asymptomatic individuals moving forward and urges everyone to follow state guidelines so she and her team can continue to do their jobs safely.

"I don't expect that we're going to see a spike relative to our population like New York or Seattle or anything like that," she said. "But we have our concerns and we have to be ready for that."
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