75,000 COVID-19 nasal swab tests from UVA to be distributed across Virginia

75,000 COVID-19 nasal swab tests from UVA to be distributed across Virginia
Dr. Amy Mathers shows how COVID-19 nasal testing swabs made at UVA will be used like commercially made tests. (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - 75,000 COVID-19 nasal swab tests, designed by doctors and engineers at the University of Virginia, are slated to be distributed across the commonwealth weekly to help with high-priority testing measures.

“Early in the pandemic, there was a clear shortage of the nasopharyngeal swab so the swabs that you know people use and they go right back in your nose just like that,” Dr. Amy Mathers, an infectious disease physician at UVA, said.

Of the 75,000 tests, 60,000 swabs will be produced and distributed throughout Virginia each week to meet a growing need. Another 15,000 will stay at UVA Health.

Mathers says mass production of the testing device will help meet the state’s growing need.

“To control the pandemic, we need to have testing readily available, especially to people who have symptoms - as soon as they have symptoms - because we need to understand that if that person has COVID, who was around them and get them isolated and supported as soon as possible,” Mathers said.

William Guilford of UVA Engineering helped design the swabs. He started by making them with a 3D printer.

“The demand kept going up and up and up. And 3D printing, while it’s great for a short-term thing, is terrible for large qualities. And the other problem is, is that, these 3D printed things were brittle and the last thing you want for a nasopharyngeal swab is to break off inside your nose,” Guilford said.

After several trials, the team was able to get their prototype approved by the FDA.

“It took us all tolled about two to three months, and I would say that’s a really accelerated timeline for clearing a medical device, if I’m honest about it, but times are desperate and things need to be cleared quickly,” Mathers said.

Now the team is partnering with private companies and the Virginia Department of Health to manufacture and distribute the swabs.

“The design works and I’m thrilled that I am able to take a step back so that our clinicians can go ahead and do what they do. That was the whole goal from the beginning,” Guilford said.

Even though the swabs won’t solve all the testing needs, Dr. Mathers says it’s a huge step in the right direction.

“You still need all the chemicals to run the test and you still need enough machines to run the tests on so those bottlenecks haven’t been taken care of this with this but hopefully this is one less thing that will stall testing and will allow the state of Virginia to expand their testing,” Mathers said.

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