Statement on UCSF Health’s Drive to Increase Testing Capacity for Coronavirus

To meet the increased need for COVID-19 testing that is likely to emerge in the Bay Area in the coming weeks, UCSF Health, with support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) and CZ Biohub, is now working to significantly expand our testing capacity for our patients.

The new collaboration will also allow us to offer COVID-19 testing to patient populations served by our partner hospital Zuckerberg San Francisco General and other sites operated by the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Since March 9, UCSF Health has been administering COVID-19 tests to inpatients at our hospitals, to patients with symptoms entering through our Emergency Department, and to outpatients at the UCSF Respiratory Screening Clinic suspected of having the virus, with a current testing capacity of 60 to 100 patients per day.

We perform these tests using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique similar to that used in testing for COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CZI/CZ Biohub testing collaboration will create a temporary expansion of the existing UCSF laboratory, which is federally and state certified for diagnostic testing, into space leased by UCSF adjacent to the CZ Biohub at Mission Bay. The lab will employ robotic technology for high-throughput PCR testing, and will also benefit from CZ Biohub support and collaboration in operations, bioinformatics, and the development of new testing protocols.

PCR allows scientists to detect very small amounts of virus in a sample obtained with a swab from a patient’s nose and throat. Some of our PCR-based testing depends on the availability of special substances known as reagents (“ree-AY-gents”) that are in very short supply nationwide, but the particular reagents being employed in the new CZ Biohub/UCSF collaboration are more widely available and currently have a reliable supply chain.

The swabs used to obtain patient samples are also very scarce nationwide. UCSF is making every effort to ensure we have a robust and resilient supply chain for reagents, swabs, and all other materials we need to maintain and expand our testing capacity.

Provided our access to testing reagents is not interrupted, the new UCSF diagnostic laboratory adjacent to CZ Biohub could increase our testing capacity to as many as 1,000 inpatients and symptomatic outpatients per day over the next few weeks.

The new testing collaboration is facilitated by a March 12 executive order by California Governor Gavin Newsom that provided more flexibility in some state regulations with regard to how diagnostic laboratories are staffed, which will allow us to more quickly ramp up operations in this new facility.

In addition, with special emergency clearance from the federal government, several commercial diagnostic laboratories have initiated COVID-19 testing, which is also expected to significantly increase the testing capacity in the region.

We continue to work closely with the CDC, state and local departments of public health, and the City and County of San Francisco on testing protocols and our emergency preparations overall.