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Avera Medical Minute: Heroes of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 11:02 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Supply chain issues continue to be a lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From consumer products to vital resources, shortages are affecting nearly every aspect of our daily lives.

At Avera Health, a shortage of much-needed COVID testing supplies and equipment forced the health system to innovate and create its own COVID-19 test that would go on to make a big impact.

In the early months of 2020, many health systems like Avera found themselves in a precarious situation.

“It is a very vivid memory. I remember the exact day, actually. It was March 11. At that time there was a scarcity of COVID tests in the State of South Dakota, nationwide,” said Dr. Erik Ehli, the Scientific Director at the Avera Institute for Human Genetics.

The COVID-19 pandemic was in its infancy. The virus was making its way throughout the state. But with a severe shortage of testing supplies and the South Dakota Public Health Laboratory being the only one in the state able to process COVID-19 tests at the time, something had to be done. Avera was up to the task.

“We sat down, we thought of all of the options, all of the potential solutions, there’s a lot of expertise here,” said Dr. Ehli. “Here at Avera Human Genetics, we’ve been doing genetics research for 15 years. To bring a test out like this was something very much in our wheelhouse. We have a mantra here to take what we do at the bench, to the bedside. And this was the perfect scenario for that,” said Dr. Ehli.

The work to get a test up and running started immediately. “We had a construction crew here the next day,” said Dr. Ehli.

They sourced reagents and materials from a variety of vendors.

The crew at Avera was able to develop their own PCR, or Preliminary Chain Reaction, test.

“Once the test was approved and it was validated and we proved it was working well, then the real work started,” said Dr. Ehli. Initial testing was a manual, slow process with all hands on deck.

“We went from M-5 an 8-5, you know, more of a banking type of hours to literally 24 hours, 7 days a week providing testing to the patients and the people of South Dakota,” said Dr. Ehli. Testing has just reached a milestone at Avera.

More than 18 months into the pandemic, and Avera has surpassed 500,000 tests completed.

For more information on COVID testing, head over to www.avera.org/medicalminute.

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