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Supply chain failures lead to local COVID-19 test

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The standard COVID-19 test isn't simple, like those for the flu or pregnancy.

There has been one consistent issue during the COVID-19 crisis: the supply chain failures to provide test kits for the virus. That includes the chemicals and plastic parts needed to run the tests. That supply chain still can't produce enough of everything, to the point Kaleida Health Laboratories has seen testing fall well below what it had been doing earlier in the crisis.
COVID-19 testing is an excruciatingly complicated process using high-tech machinery, exotic chemicals and tiny plastic pieces, all at the end of a supply chain mostly running to China.

Dr. John Tomaszewski, who runs Kaleida Health Laboratories and is a SUNY distinguished professor of pathology at the University at Buffalo's Jacobs Medical School, said that supply chain weakness means Kaleida can run fewer than half the tests its machines can do because the chemicals and plastic pieces just aren't available.

"It's that flexibility and redundancy of testing that really makes systems work, both," he said. "It's not about a test or the test, it's about the pipelines and how you put them together and who you address with what system."

Tomaszewski said American companies just can't make the materials themselves.

"It's one thing to put reagents together, because you, as a laboratory, you sort of control that. But the manufacturing of plastics and things is really not in our culture," Tomaszewski said. "I have 3D printers here in the university to do anatomy and stuff like that. Yeah, we could, but the consistency and the tolerance of these things would not be there."

As a result, Tomaszewski said Kaleida labs are using a test designed and built here.

"We've actually pulled pieces and parts together of the system and we validated that, sent all that stuff to the state. The state said, 'That's good.' Wadsworth had put together a whole elaborate procedure for doing this, specifically for COVID, and we've been running that," he said.

Wadsworth is the world-renowned state Health Department lab in Albany that regulates COVID-19 testing in the state.

Tomaszewski said besides the supply chain issues, there are human issues: there just aren't enough of the laboratory technicians needed to keep medical labs functioning.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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