SOM Opens Antibody Testing Lab, Campus Health Clinic, and Other COVID
Strategies for LSU Health Sciences Center Employees and Students

The LSU School of Medicine has been at the forefront of the fight against COVID, even before the first case was seen in the United States. Faculty and residents continue to handle the surge of COVID cases in our partner hospitals, and basic and clinical scientists continue to study the spread of SARS-CoV-2, its disease manifestations, detection and treatment. 

The School has taken many steps to strategically protect and care for its own faculty, staff and students, and help ensure a safer work and school environment for everyone. 

As a public health surveillance research project, the Departments of Genetics and Pathology opened a COVID testing clinic for any LSU Health Sciences Center faculty, staff, or student who is currently asymptomatic but would like an antibody test. The clinic has performed more than 1200 tests since opening on July 15.
 
“The testing program offers a rapid antibody finger-stick test with 15-minute results for asymptomatic students, staff and faculty as a public health survey. This research-use antibody test detects both IgG and IgM to the virus nucleocapsid protein. It was validated through an IRB-approved study led by Dr. Miele in 99 cases with known virus status, and showed 97% sensitivity and 98% specificity in our hands.  People who test positive for the antibodies via the research-use test are then referred for an FDA-authorized clinical testing for the virus to ensure they are not actively infected with SARS-CoV-2,” said Dr. Judy Crabtree, Director of the Campus COVID-19 Testing Clinic. The lab is currently detecting antibodies in approximately 30% of the people tested, then of those, 17-20% are positive for the virus. “Faculty, staff and students who are asymptomatic but virus positive are able to quarantine and prevent further spread both on campus and in the community,” she adds. 

To register and schedule an appointment, go to https://911.lsuhsc.edu/coronavirus/ and click on the purple box that says COVID-19 Antibody Testing Registration. Sign in with LSUHSC username and password, then answer the screening questions at the bottom to register and schedule an appointment. The clinic is located on the on the third floor of the Seton Building and is open from 8 a.m. – noon Monday through Friday. Symptomatic patients should contact their personal physician or the Campus Health Clinic (see more information below) at 504-412-1995. 

Dr. Crabtree notes that Paula Kensler from the LSUHSC School of Nursing has been a tremendous partner in the clinic by organizing nursing support to perform the nasal swabs for virus testing. Other members of the team include Dr. Gordon Love, Dr. Grace Athas, Fannie Jackson, and Michael Dugas from Pathology, and Dr. Lucio Miele from Genetics.  The virus laboratory tests are performed by Myranda Thapa and Noel Clay, contributing medical technologists from Children's Hospital.

The school will soon see an increase in the capacity for testing. In a joint venture between the Departments of Pathology and Genetics, the school has purchased an Ilumina NextSeqDX and a Tecan liquid handling robot for COVID testing.

“This instrument and workflow will allow us to sequence the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is present here in southeast Louisiana. Patients and the community will benefit from an increased capacity for testing, and researchers will also benefit from the ability to track the clades present now and any new mutations that develop in the future,” Dr. Crabtree said.

Once fully operational, the new workflow will process 384 samples every 12 hours, greatly increasing throughput and allowing LSU Health New Orleans to enable massive community testing.

When the COVID crisis is over, the Illumina and Tecan instruments will continue to play a critical role in medicine and research. These instruments will be re-tasked for precision medicine, initially for the support of oncology and eventually for whole exome sequencing.

“Currently, we outsource the majority of our genomic testing, but in the future we will perform the testing in-house, saving significant time and costs,” Dr. Crabtree said.

The Campus COVID-19 Testing Lab complements the opening of the new Campus Health Clinic in August. LSU Healthcare Network, with the strong support of Drs. Sarah Bautista and Lauren Davis, has established the Campus Health Clinic as a resource for all primary care needs, as well as to answer questions about managing COVID on campus. The Clinic is located on the 5th floor of the Campus Multispecialty Clinic at 478 South Johnson Street and operates Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

All LSUHSC and LSUHCN employees and students can utilize this clinic for primary care visits. Additionally, employees can report possible exposures or positive tests. The clinic will provide supervisors, employees and students with appropriate guidance about what constitutes a significant exposure, who needs to quarantine from campus, whether or not testing is indicated, where to go for testing, when you are cleared to return to work, who to contact for cleaning and fumigation of the work place after an employee tests positive, and other questions. 

The number to make an appointment or to ask COVID-related questions is 504-412-1995. Supervisors are especially encouraged to use this resource for questions about how to manage employees after a positive test or an exposure. 

In addition, Dr. Howard Osofsky and the Department of Psychiatry have established a COVID Hotline for the LSU Health New Orleans community. Anyone who is feeling stressed or anxious about the coronavirus pandemic can speak with a mental health professional free of charge.
 
The Hotline is answered seven days a week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Messages can be left after hours and will be answered the following morning by the clinician on duty. 
 
The hotline number is 504-228-6196.

A wealth of information has been collected regarding the coronavirus and collected in one site: 
(https://911.lsuhsc.edu/coronavirus/default.aspx). Campus and school leadership quickly implemented changes recommended by LSU Health New Orleans clinicians and Infectious Diseases faculty as guidance and procedures for the prevention and management of COVID-19 on our campuses, including:

  • Establishing campus guidelines for managing exposures and COVID positive cases on campus (Campus Guidelines);
  • Developing an online reporting system for faculty, staff and students                                                 (https://911.lsuhsc.edu/coronavirus/selfreporting.aspx);
  • Amending class schedules to minimize student density and exposures on campus;
  • Policies related to masks, physical distancing, and working from home. 

There is also a new FAQs section, which provides answers to common questions about COVID-19 on our campuses, which can be found here: FAQs for LSU Health New Orleans. This guidance will evolve in response to current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.