OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – When it comes to medical research, some patients don’t have months or years to wait.
So amidst this pandemic, researchers at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation had to find a way to keep their labs open and working safely.
“Just a week off for a researcher or a laboratory can set them back months if not years,” said Courtney Greenwood, VP of Human Resources for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
After months of brainstorming and collaboration, they landed on employee testing.
“We had to do a lot of research, and by ‘we’ I mean our researchers had to do a lot of research to figure out how we could actually do this and do it in a way that we thought would be less invasive from employees,” said Greenwood.
Every week, screening kits are set out for employees. Each employee then turns their saliva in to get tested.
“We thought that spit tests, you know collecting saliva, would be a lot less invasive for people. People would be a lot more on board than you know a nose prong,” said Greenwood.
Researchers collect close to 400 samples Mondays and Tuesdays. By Wednesday evening, they’re able to identify any positive COVID-19 cases among their employees.
“It’s still a PCR test so it’s very sensitive, very specific, but it’s easier for employees to self-collect the samples,” said Dr. Joel Guthridge, an assistant member of the Arthritis & Clinical Immunology Research Program.
When they kick started the program back in October, they were seeing one to two positive tests each week.
Cases continued to drop, in part, because the virus is identified often before symptoms appear.
“The other is people know they’re going to get tested every week, so by nature, they tend to be a little more careful,” said Dr. Guthridge.
Staff says they’re lucky because they have the equipment in house to do this sort of testing. It would be possible for other businesses to do it, but it would be expensive.
“There are companies that offer this as a service for other employers but for us, that would’ve cost too much,” said Dr. Guthridge.
This surveillance is protecting employees and protecting the vital research into other medical mysteries.
“This sense of security, the sense of safety, that along with our masks and our physical distancing, this is just another added layer of safety that we have,” said Greenwood.
Dr. Guthridge says they plan to continue the program through June.