Effects of Baylor’s new COVID lab and research facility

By Rachel Royster | Staff Writer

Baylor University, in partnership with MyLabsDirect, has opened a “state-of-the-art” COVID-19 testing lab in hopes of getting test results back to students, faculty and staff faster.

“The multi-million dollar lab is one of the largest testing labs of its kind owned by a university with no affiliated medical school and addresses the University’s ongoing need to conduct extensive coronavirus testing of its faculty, staff and students,” the Baylor press release said.

The facility is located two miles north of campus at the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC), allowing quick access to the molecular PCR instrument, which conducts the testing of samples taken at the on-campus testing sites.

“We started operating the lab on campus last week,” Ryan Vice, MyLabsDirect director of operations on the Baylor campus, said. “The method is the exact same, using the PCR molecular test here, which is the gold standard right now. The results’ accuracy will be the same as last semester given that we haven’t crossed over to the antigen testing at this point in time.”

This facility allows for Baylor to be conducting weekly tests for everyone on campus including students, faculty, staff and the athletic department.

“We’re in that ballpark of probably close to 2,500 or 2,700 tests a day, which is close to where we estimated we would be,” Vice said.

BRIC - Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative - MyLabsDirect - MLD lab - testing, COVID, samples, tests – 01/19/2021
A MyLabsDirect employee processes samples at the new COVID-19 testing lab in the BRIC. Photo courtesy of Baylor University.

After just one week of conducting weekly campus-wide testing, both the staff conducting the tests as well as those being tested are getting used to this system.

“It seems to be getting its wheels under it, as far as the operations, the registration process and the test flow,” Vice said. “I think students, faculty and staff are starting to get the concept of the self-administered testing as well. So I feel like now that we are in week two of students testing as well, our claws are getting into it and we’re finally getting to where we have some routine testing going on, so I feel good about it.”

As the semester continues, the process will continue to run smoother with hopes at getting test results back within a 24 to 48 hour period.

“The lab on campus should report much more smoothly, now that this instrument can do so much more volume-wise than what our other lab was doing before,” Vice said. “The process, as far as running the samples and then resulting in the samples. is pretty much the same. The way that instrument works is the sample is resulting once it comes off the instrument. Once they’re processed, we then release the results based on that.”

Now that everyone on campus has begun getting tested weekly, many students and professors are feeling safer than before being in person.

“I personally feel a little bit safer because of the weekly testing,” Dr. Benjamin Kelley, a mechanical engineering professor, said. “The faster a positive case is identified, then the shorter the period for unintended transmission. This is positive for the prospects of the Baylor community staying safe.”

With the new lab on campus allowing results to come back quickly, the university can put people who are infected with the virus in isolation before they spread it to many people unknowingly. It also allows for people with symptoms to know whether they have the virus or not in a speedy manner.

“I think it’s a great idea to move a lab on campus, especially because it gives that level of assurance to students,” Yorba Linda, Calif., senior Bryce Johnson said. “Having our results back as soon as possible is always a nice thing. People don’t want to sit on top of results for three or four days, having to isolate themselves whenever they may have it.”

The BRIC will not only allow for COVID-19 testing, but also acts as a move towards Baylor’s long-term goal to be a Research 1/Tier 1 university, providing more opportunities for Baylor students.

“I am excited about the opportunities even beyond the positive ones that an on-campus testing lab brings to managing COVID-19 for research projects, community services and even economic development that the testing lab at the BRIC brings to Baylor and the Waco area,” Kelley said. “While maybe one would not envision this particular project, such circumstances is just why the BRIC was established and the testing lab is a unique partnership which is providing benefits.”