Inside look at UNMC lab that tests for coronavirus

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- Eight of 15 passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship remain in quarantine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for coronavirus.

The Nebraska Public Health Laboratory on campus is where samples from patients are checked for coronavirus.

Another patient was cleared Wednesday and left today.

It’s been especially busy since the cruise ship passengers arrived in February and placed into quarantine.

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The lab is run by the state but staffed by UNMC.

It is where samples are first processed. A swab from the mouth and nose from the patient are collected.

Because all sorts of live viruses are present, protective gear and safety protocol is crucial.

The samples are then put into a machine to breakdown the virus into a sample that can be analyzed.

Early on these employees helped the Centers for Disease Control work out some of the kinks with the first test.

Peter Iwen is the director of the lab and UNMC Pathology professor.

"I think it's due to the fact that we aren't only a public health lab - but we are a public health lab on a university campus where we have the expertise that can do more than just run a test,” he said Thursday.

Meaning UNMC has researchers and scientists who can look into the science of the test itself. It takes about five to six hours from the time of sample collection to confirm the presence of the coronavirus.

The four employees of the lab have been working long hours. Before the coronavirus, they were busy with influenza tests and mosquitos.

The team has run as many as 26 samples in a day. One of the employees was here six years ago when the Ebola patients came to town for treatment.

Since Ebola is more lethal, they were not allowed to test samples in their lab here. They had to do that in the biocontainment unit.

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