Native-owned laboratory announces COVID-19 testing

(OKLAHOMA CITY) Tribal Diagnostics, a Native owned and operated laboratory based out of Oklahoma City begins COVID-19 testing. As CEO Cory Littlepage, a citizen of Chickasaw Nation, puts it, “e have a unique opportunity to provide testing solutions during this pandemic and I am really proud that the Tribal Diagnostics team is rising up to the challenge.”

Tribal Diagnostics will be rolling out COVID-19 testing in two phases, with phase one being antibody testing and phase two testing being molecular tests, which will show if a person has the virus.

“The first phase is going to include an antibody type of test, so when you think about when a virus enters the body we have antibodies that will build up and attack the virus,” Littlepage said.

There has been a shortage of testing options, not only in Oklahoma but also across the country. It is predicted there are thousands of people in Oklahoma who may have had COVID-19 and just didn’t know it because they were either a) asymptomatic, or b) couldn’t get access to the test.

“We will have antibody testing so we will know if a person was previously infected and if someone has had the virus and has developed some level of immunity to it,” Littlepage said.

The data from antibody testing will help to provide context on who has developed some immunity and protection from COVID-19, which in turn will be data that can be used in deciding when a person can safely return to work.

As governors across the country are considering easing social distancing restrictions and looking to reopen businesses, researchers at Harvard University are suggesting states may not reopen safely unless they conduct more than three times the number of coronavirus tests currently being administered over the next month.

According to the COVID Tracking Project, an average of 146,000 people per day have been tested for the coronavirus nationally as of April 17. To reopen the economy in the United States by mid-May, Harvard researchers say the number of daily tests should be somewhere between 500,000 to 700,000 tests per day.

There is a variation in the rate of testing and positive results among individual states, however Harvard researchers say most states need to administer more tests to get to a minimum of approximately 152 tests per 100,000 people per day.

Tribal Diagnostics will have the ability to conduct 100 antibody tests per hour with a 24-hour result turn around time.

“Depending on how many hours we work in a day, we can scale up testing pretty quickly Littlepage said.

Littlepage acknowledged there is a lot the scientific community does not know about COVID-19 and are learning each day, and making the antibody tests available will provide more data to use towards getting out vaccinations, different immunities, and how it impacts different patient populations.

“I don’t want to sit here and say I have all the answers, but if we could start getting more and more samples to run additional tests we will start getting closer to those answers than the world becomes a better place and in Oklahoma, and Indian Country,” Littlepage said.

Phase two testing will be molecular testing, meaning testing for those who actually have the virus now.

“That’s what is being done now in the drive-thru testing sites with the nasal swab test, so we will be able to test about 200 specimens per day and we are anticipating phase two to begin in early May,” Littlepage said.

Tribal Diagnostics will be coordinating with tribes and health boards across Oklahoma, and across the country to offer their facility as a hub for the nasal specimens to be delivered to their facility in Oklahoma City for testing.

“Even though our headquarters are in Oklahoma City, we support providers and tribes in Seattle, Michigan, Maine and Washington, D.C., and that’s the good thing about modern logistics, the specimens can get to us the next morning and we can conduct high volume tests on our equipment,” Littlepage said.

According to a press release, which states, “Tribal Diagnostics’ services are available to serve all healthcare providers, they are working hard to ensure Tribally-operated hospitals and clinics are receiving focused care and analysis as the American Indian demographic is a vulnerable population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Tribal Diagnostics is proud to use our experience during these challenging and unprecedented times. We have now conducted over one million laboratory tests and feel uniquely positioned to join the fight to control the COVID-19 outbreak across the country and especially within our Tribal communities, by doing what we do best … providing comprehensive lab analysis as quickly as possible,” Littlepage stated in a press release.

Tribal Diagnostics first opened their doors in 2015 with a focus on targeting substance abuse tests, specifically opioids. They have evolved over the past few years into a full-service laboratory offering hundreds of different tests related to diabetes, heart disease, infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV, and other disease states. Their headquarters are based out of Oklahoma City, however, they have employees in 10 different states with 30% of their employees being Native American.

“Although we are unique because we are tribally owned and operated, we understand the delivery system of IHS, electronic health records and the importance of data and reports for advocating federal funding, so I anticipate us being a valuable partner to tribal communities because we can help tribes with their data as it relates to COVID-19,” Littlepage said.

Tribal Diagnostics will be reporting daily how many tests they run, the positives, the negatives, and what their capacity is, and what equipment they have to the Oklahoma State Dept. of Health. Littlepage said everyone is competing for the same resources with the nasal swabs and other materials and feels it is important to be transparent and proactive with the state in letting them know Tribal Diagnostics have the testing.

With all of the data and experts emphasizing the need for more testing in order to open the states’ economies back up, having another avenue of antibody testing through Tribal Diagnostics will play an important role in Oklahoma’s path to opening up businesses again.

“To begin to get back a semblance of our lives, I believe you have to talk about it … we’re humans, and I think you have to have a plan for reopening the economy,” Littlepage said when asked his opinion on reopening Oklahoma’s economy. “You have to help people get back to some sort of life, and you have to take care of safety first, but not to talk about how we can start getting back the economy would be negligent, in my personal opinion.”

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