Scientists at UW Medicine’s Virology lab didn’t know what to expect when they set up a fundraising page Wednesday in response to questions from the public about how to help accelerate testing for the novel coronavirus. It didn’t take long to find out.
By Friday afternoon, more than 550 people had donated nearly $185,000 in amounts ranging from $10 to $1,000.
“Thank you for your dedication and incredibly important work,” wrote one donor, who chipped in $100. “You’re literally life savers,” wrote another.
The money will be used to buy equipment and hire staff to ramp up the pace of testing — which was hampered early in the outbreak by flaws in the federal government’s test kit and delayed approval for alternative approaches.
The UW lab was one of the first academic sites in the country to get the OK to conduct its own coronavirus tests, and is now processing more than 2,000 samples a day. The goal is to increase daily capacity to 4,000 to 5,000 tests, Dr. Alex Greninger, the lab’s assistant director, said when the effort began in early March.
“Our most urgent need is to rapidly expand testing,” says a statement on the lab’s website. “The degree and speed with which we ramp up testing could have enormous impact on how the pandemic plays out within our state.”
According to data posted on a new tracking site that will be updated daily, the lab has tested nasal swabs from nearly 19,000 people since March 2, with 7.5% positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
The spirit of giving displayed by cash donations has also extended to equipment and food. The lab posted thanks Friday via its Twitter account to Portage Bay Cafe for delivering a free pancake breakfast. And last week, the lab’s urgent request for a particular type of pipette tip was answered the next day by other groups across the university.
Greninger and his colleagues developed their own test, based on analysis of the pathogen’s genetic material, in January — soon after the virus began its global march. At the time, the Public Health Laboratory in Shoreline was the only local agency authorized to test for the virus, and its capacity was limited. Now, more labs nationwide are authorized to do the work — but people across the state still report problems with getting tested.