First on FOX: An inside look at DC’s public health lab where coronavirus testing is being done

D.C., Maryland and Virginia can now test for the coronavirus at labs close to home without having to send the samples to the CDC in Atlanta, meaning results will be coming in faster.

Health experts in D.C. say it will dramatically change the speed of the testing process which is critical at a time when people are anxious, waiting on results, every hour counts. Now they can turn around results within 24 hours. 

“It is a game changer we’re going to be able to get our results faster to the people that are asking us a question as to whether individuals have been exposed to this virus,” said Dr. Jenifer Smith, Director of the DC Department of Forensic Sciences. 

FOX 5 got an exclusive look at how the testing is done at the D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences — this is the home of D.C.’s Public Health Laboratory. 

A researcher works in a lab that is developing testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus at Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation on Feb. 28, 2020 in Nutley, New Jersey.

(Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

Once the lab receives a specimen — mostly nose and throat swabs — lab technologists place it in a test tube. That tube then goes into a centrifuge machine- which spins rapidly separating the virus from the normal human cells. From there, the test tube goes into a 2nd instrument that analyzes the specimen to see if in fact, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is present. 

“We’ll be able to provide results much faster and that’s gonna be really important for health department mitigation efforts and health care providers to get results more quickly,” said Dr. Anthony Tran, DC Public Health Laboratory Director. 

“As of right now, we can run 25 specimens per day, by next week, We’re Moving towards automated methodologies, so we can run 80 in a day,” said Tran. 

“Even if we get a positive sample, those samples will go to Atlanta for confirmation, but if we get a negative result, individuals will know much sooner,” said Smith. 

Doctors say having the capability to test quickly for the virus is key to minimizing risk. There have been no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in D.C., Maryland or Virginia.

As of Tuesday evening, the D.C. lab was waiting on one patient result from Atlanta. Again, they no longer will have to wait.