Robots, know-how drive COVID lab’s massive testing effort

The samples will arrive via courier every 30 minutes.

Once they’re logged in at the Cornell COVID-19 Testing Laboratory (CCTL), based in the College of Veterinary Medicine, a robot will pipette the liquid samples into pools of five. The pools will then be processed in batches of 93 at a time – ultimately yielding test results within 24 hours for 5,000 to 7,000 Cornell students, staff and faculty per day.

It’s a massive undertaking in a state-of-the-art lab built from scratch in less than two months, based on data-driven models, research and interdisciplinary expertise across Cornell’s campuses; and with support and guidance from Cayuga Health System’s medical and laboratory leadership.

Samples will be tested in CCTL

Lindsay France/Cornell University

Samples will be tested in pools of five; individual samples making up positive pools will undergo retesting to identify the infected individuals.

The CCTL’s surveillance efforts began Aug. 17 and will gear up Sept. 2 for twice weekly testing for undergraduates and weekly tests for graduate students, faculty and staff. The rapid turnaround of test results is a cornerstone of the university’s plan to reactivate campus as safely and scientifically as possible.

“This has been an amazing effort by a lot of people to bring it to fruition in such a short amount of time,” said Dr. Lorin Warnick, Ph.D. ’94, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “Faculty and staff here in Ithaca and colleagues from Weill Cornell Medicine, working with Cayuga Health System, have all come together to develop the techniques, validate the testing and build the capacity to offer surveillance testing, further enhancing what’s needed in the community at large.”

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