Sparrow reaches a milestone: 200,000 COVID tests

Craig Lyons
Lansing State Journal

LANSING – Sparrow processed its 200,000th COVID-19 test Monday. It's one of the few laboratories facilities in the state to cross that threshold, the hospital system announced.

“In the early days, we didn’t envision this day coming as it was hard to do very many tests to begin with and we’re now doing between 2,200 and 2,500 tests each day,” said Jon Baker, Sparrow’s administrative director of laboratory services.

Those 200,000 tests come from Sparrow’s hospitals, its drive-thru testing centers and the several clients it processes samples for, Baker said. The largest collection point is by far the drive-thru testing site at the former Sears Auto Center in Lansing, he said.

Vehicles line up at Sparrow Health System's drive-through COVID-19 testing site at the former Sears Auto Center in the Frandor shopping center on Monday, May 18, 2020, in Lansing. Lines for the testing reached Michigan Avenue during parts of the day.

Sparrow was the first hospital system in the state to start in-house testing, spokesman John Foren said.

Baker said there’s still a high demand for the tests, and he doesn’t expect that to wane any time soon.

More:COVID hospitalizations low in Greater Lansing despite statewide surge

Volume at the testing sites increases during news of outbreaks in the community and even when students returned to Michigan State University in August, Baker said.

“Now we’re seeing a steady increase that isn’t attributed to anything in particular, except possibly the growing incidence of the disease,” Baker said.

The hospital system announced in August that it had performed its 100,000th test.

Since the pandemic began, labs in Michigan have run 4.3 million tests for the virus – 128,810 in Ingham County, 45,742 in Eaton County and 21,416 in Clinton County, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Throughout the epidemic, Baker said, Sparrow and other labs have managed to increase capacity for testing even as shortages in the supply chain hamper that ability. Sparrow even began 3D printing its own pipettes to use for testing, he said.

“It’s required a lot of versatility,” Baker said.

Packages of newly printed nasal swabs made in house on 3D printers, seen Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at the Sparrow Center for Laboratory Medicine.

The 200,000 COVID tests represent only a fraction of the overall work handled at Sparrow’s lab. Baker said the labs run more than 8 million diagnostic tests annually.

Sparrow opened its testing centers to the general public in May even though the state still hadn’t relaxed its guidelines for who could get the test.

More:Sparrow Hospital opens COVID-19 testing to general public

Early in the pandemic, testing was limited to people who had direct contact with someone who had the virus and those with severe symptoms. By May, the testing criteria expanded to include essential workers and people without symptoms.

The state health department maintained the guidelines on who could get tested because of a limited amount of supplies and capacity to process the tests.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services finally eased  criteria in June, allowing the general public to get tested for the virus.

Contact reporter Craig Lyons at 517-377-1047 or Follow him on Twitter @craigalyons.