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Malatras: SUNY Upstate Medical University to partner with New York Power Authority to test essential utility workers for COVID-19 using top-ranked saliva test

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Wed, Dec 23rd 2020 05:45 pm

Agreement provides regular mandatory testing of essential employees in NYPA locations within communities showing a positivity rate of 7.5% or higher

State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras joined with Upstate Medical President Mantosh Dewan, M.D., and New York Power Authority President and CEO Gil C. Quiniones in announcing a mandatory COVID-19 testing program for NYPA’s utility employees who are essential to the operation and maintenance of the statewide power system. The testing program will use Upstate’s Clarifi COVID-19 saliva test, which was recently ranked No. 1 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for being the most sensitive saliva test and detecting the virus in its earliest stages. The test ranks sixth globally.

As part of the agreement, SUNY will provide NYPA with the capability to regularly test NYPA’s essential employees, including power generation and transmission staff, in locations within communities showing a COVID-19 positivity rate of 7.5% or higher. Testing is currently taking place at NYPA’s Niagara Power Plant in Lewistown. The NYPA essential employee testing program is SUNY’s most recent partnership to test more of New York’s essential workers, and follows a similar program for Albany International Airport announced in the beginning of the month.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been looking at resources differently in order to protect our students, faculty and staff from this health crisis and, in doing so, SUNY and Upstate Medical has been able to expand capacity to test more essential workers for COVID at its earliest stages when individuals are asymptomatic,” Malatras said. “Upstate’s saliva test is ranked highly because it can detect trace amounts of the virus, and it has a quick turnaround within 48 hours and is cost effective. We are pleased to work with President Quiniones to offer this test to the employees of NYPA, who are critical to our state, especially now in winter, as power for heat is needed across the state and as we continue to arm our hospitals to fight against COVID. I also want to thank President Dewan and his staff at Upstate Medical for all they are doing to expand the positive impact that SUNY’s academic medicine sector has had on managing the pandemic through research, testing and excellent patient care.”

“NYPA is grateful for the work of our fellow New Yorkers in developing this groundbreaking test, which will enable us to test our most critical staff so that we can maintain the reliability and resiliency of our power generation and transmission operations,” Quiniones said. “Before the new vaccines can be fully deployed and as we move into a resurgent phase of the pandemic, this test is a powerful tool in our arsenal to protect the health and safety of our valued employees, whose specialized expertise is needed to keep the lights on at hospitals and the ventilators running so that we are at the ready to help our most vulnerable in their fight against COVID-19.”

Dewan said, “Upstate is pleased to play a role in the testing of these authority employees whose role in our state’s power system is so vital to the health, economy and well-being of our state. The testing we developed with Quadrant Biosciences has provided us with a reliable, highly sensitive and cost-effective technology for detecting COVID and slowing its spread. Together with SUNY System, we welcome the opportunity to partner with key industries across New York, as we work in tandem to combat this pandemic.”

NYPA, an essential service operator that generates approximately 25% of the state’s power and owns and operates approximately one-third of New York’s transmission system, will use the COVID-19 test on generation and transmission staff at key locations across the state. NYPA’s initial sites include the Niagara Power Project in Western New York; transmission control sites in Oneida County; and the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project in Schoharie County. Other sites may be added as COVID conditions warrant.

Last March, at the beginning of the pandemic, NYPA isolated more than 80 power plant control room and transmission control operators for a period of several months. The sequestration helped keep key operations staff safe and healthy, which enabled NYPA’s core generation and transmission functions to continue uninterrupted. Many of NYPA’s customers, including hospitals, police and fire departments, schools and nursing homes, rely on its power for mission-critical equipment and efforts.

The Clarifi COVID saliva test, along with other new and improved tools for combatting the virus, promises to significantly reduce the burden and sacrifice of many of NYPA’s essential workers as they continue working to power New York.

SUNY began its voluntary testing program of employees at Albany International Airport on Dec. 11. Albany International Airport staffs a facility to provide tests to employees. Tests are handed out and employees may administer it themselves on site. Tests are then collected and sent to Upstate Medical for analysis. The same protocol will occur with NYPA essential employees. Test results are typically available within 48 hours.

SUNY has been able to conduct more than 200,000 tests a week this semester thanks to a series of major breakthroughs at SUNY Upstate Medical. Both the New York State Department of Health and FDA gave approval for an individual saliva swab test developed by Upstate Medical and Quadrant Biosciences. By combining this groundbreaking individual saliva swab test with Upstate Medical's state-approved pooled testing protocol, SUNY was able to conduct COVID-19 tests on students, faculty and staff on SUNY campuses throughout the fall semester.

Both the individual test and the pooled test developed by Upstate Medical and Quadrant are done using saliva swabs rather than swabs inserted in a person's nose.

Individuals administer the tests themselves by swabbing their mouths. Samples are given to Upstate Medical and combined into a pool, which is tested for COVID 19 virus. A negative test means all 10-25 people in the group are presumed to be coronavirus-free at the time of testing.

A positive test for the pool requires each individual saliva sample within the pool to be tested again to pinpoint the positive case or cases. The rapid retesting does not require people in the positive pool to return to submit an entirely new sample. This greatly accelerates the process and expands testing capacity.

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