In December, the microbiology department for Sinai Health-University Health Network (UHN) completed more than one million COVID-19 tests for Ontarians across the province.
“This number is amazing, because pre-COVID-19, the lab’s normal capacity was about 600,000 tests in a whole year,” says Dr. Tony Mazzulli, Microbiologist-in-Chief at Sinai Health and UHN.
“It took exactly 6 months to reach the half million mark in mid-September. Since then, the lab has tested another half million specimens for COVID 19 in just 3 short months.”
“Now, in just 9 months we’ve tested almost double our previous routine number of specimens for COVID 19 alone” he says, emphasizing that the lab continues to maintain it’s previous high output of other tests including blood and tissue cultures, respiratory specimen tests, flu testing, infection control screening and more.
This incredible achievement was supported by donors to Sinai Health Foundation’s CEO Fund, which was established to help Sinai pivot in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also enabled by a seed donation that happened in May 2020, at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gifted by the FDC Foundation, the donated lab equipment, along with two freezers to store samples, allowed Sinai Health to dramatically ramp up its COVID-19 testing capacity by an additional 2,000 samples a day. At the time, the lab was only able to process about 2,500 tests per day a far cry from today’s numbers ranging from 9,500 to 12,000 a day.
“FDC Foundation allowed Sinai Health to acquire the first automated sample preparation instrument of this kind in Canada,” says Mazzulli. “Now we have six of these instruments in the lab and other labs across the country have also acquired these instruments because of their high throughput.”
That first piece of equipment donated by the FDC Foundation created capacity in the lab that allowed the team to scale up their testing dramatically. Today, Sinai Health is a significant centre for COVID-19 testing in Canada.
“We have one of the largest intakes of different samples from across Ontario,” Mazzulli explains. “When other labs develop a backlog, Sinai is where many of them turn to for help in clearing their overflow.”
In fact, in addition to tests from the GTA, every test from Muskoka and Lakeridge comes to the Sinai Health/UHN lab. To meet the skyrocketing demand for COVID-19 tests, the team had to cram their space with new equipment, and with new people to run the tests.
“Several sections of the lab have been transformed into COVID testing areas filled with new equipment” says Mazzulli. “In addition, our team has grown by more than 50 people dedicated to COVID testing and more are being hired every day.”
“There’s no new space, just new machines and new people. In the same lab, we have COVID analyzers working side-by-side with techs using bacteriology and virology equipment.”
Despite the challenges they face and incredible pressure to generate results as quickly as possible, Mazzulli says the team has risen to the challenge to get the job done. With a spiking workload as well as a shortage of qualified lab professionals to meet the demand, many of the staff have skipped or postponed their time off. And even in ever-tightening working conditions, there have been no lab acquired COVID-19 infections.
“Everyone understands the importance of staying healthy and following well-established safety measures like wearing masks, social distancing, and washing hands,” says Mazzulli.
“No one wants to see the lab shut down because of an outbreak. Its role in the fight against COVID 19 is far too important to let this happen.”
Stay up-to-date with Sinai Health
SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER