BERKELEY (KPIX 5) — Commercial labs are being swamped and it’s taking many of them more than a week to return COVID-19 tests results in California, but help may be on the way as soon as next week.

Researchers say this is a critical time in our history and traditional methods of conducting tests are not going to cut it. That’s why a lab using robots at UC Berkeley may provide the testing needed to get a handle on the coronavirus pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit and the range of infections went as high as it did, we realized there is a skill that we have that can be rapidly repurposed for the national good,” said Fydor Urnov, Director of Technology at Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute.

That skill was merging the very latest in technology with medical testing. “Where the robots come in is taking the best tools available today and not relying on what’s being traditionally done,” Urnov explained.

So a pop-up laboratory was created and 860 volunteers stepped up to help. Highly skilled scientists were called on to shift their focus from conducting research to meeting the needs of the medical community in the Bay Area.

“Taking one patient sample and running it through the system will take four hours, but that is not useful. The question is how long can you turn around a thousand,” Urnov said.

And the scientists believe they have the answer. The lab maybe able to complete a thousand tests a day and have results within 24 hours.

Urnov feels the only way to get control of this pandemic is to get a full grasp of how prevalent the virus is in our community. “Being able to accurately understand who has the virus and who doesn’t is critical for the country to get back to normal as we can.”

The lab has received emergency modifications from state and federal regulations but it’s still required to meet stringent requirements. The goal is the lab will be online as soon as next week.

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