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Austin Peay State University to enhance COVID-19 testing on Campus, give up to 25,000 vaccinations in coming months

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – Austin Peay State University (APSU) officials expect to administer up to 25,000 COVID-19 Coronavirus vaccinations in the coming months to university students, employees and their families.

Austin Peay State University set up a COVID-19 testing site last summer. (APSU)
Austin Peay State University set up a COVID-19 testing site last summer. (APSU)

Additionally, Austin Peay State University plans to open a new clinical laboratory January 4th, 2021 on campus that will help university healthcare workers deliver quicker, more accurate COVID-19 Coronavirus testing and results.

The news comes as the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has intensified across the country and in Tennessee, where the state is averaging more than 8,000 infections and 70 deaths per day.

Vaccinating up to 25,000 people

Austin Peay State University will be one of the vaccination pods in Montgomery County, said Dr. Heather Phillips, director of the university’s new clinical laboratory.

“We would not only vaccinate the Austin Peay affiliates – the students, staff and faculty – but we would also be responsible for vaccinating their family members,” Phillips said on Thursday.

Phillips’ lab has an “ultra-freeze” freezer, which is necessary to hold Pfizer’s vaccine.

“These freezers are “very hard to come by, they’re very pricey and most people don’t have them,” Phillips said. Joey Smith, Montgomery County’s public health director, “asked if the university would be willing to help not only store the vaccine for the Clarksville community, but if we would also be willing to vaccinate part of the community.”

Phillips is hiring nursing staff and developing a schedule to support the effort, “vaccinating on the upward end as many as 25,000 individuals in the coming months.”

Opening a lab for on-campus testing, results

Testing from earlier this year. (APSU)
Testing from earlier this year. (APSU)

Phillips has set up a SARS-CoV-2 testing lab at Boyd Health Services on campus to perform PCR testing. SARS-CoV-2 (aka the novel coronavirus) is the virus that causes COVID-19. PCR (nasal swab) testing is the gold standard of novel coronavirus detection.

“The PCR method is where we’re looking for a little, unique snippet of RNA,” Phillips said. “If (a patient) has that little snippet that tells me they have the virus.

“This method is as close to 100% accurate as science will allow us to get, 99.999% accurate,” she added.



Phillips and her team currently send test samples to Everlywell for results, which reduces test accuracy and slows results (currently about five days). The new lab will preserve accuracy and deliver results within 24 hours. She wanted to be clear: Even though the results will be fast, they will not be from rapid antigen testing, which can have an accuracy of only 48%.

“An in-house lab allows us to process test samples without having to ship them, handle them with care and thereby reduce error, and ultimately share the results much more rapidly, even same day,” said Dr. Jeff Rutter, director of Boyd Health Services. “All these things matter a great deal in the midst of a pandemic.”

The in-house lab also allows Phillips’ team to get nasal pharyngeal samples, reaching the cells that contain the ACE2 receptors where the novel coronavirus resides.

Mitigating the risk of the virus spreading

The quicker, more accurate testing at the new lab will have a direct and immediate positive impact on the community.

“One person can expose roughly 22 people,” Phillips said. “We have the ability to prevent that from happening, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep those numbers down.

“The more we can mitigate the risk of the virus spreading, the better off not only Austin Peay’s campus will be, but the community outside of Austin Peay will be,” she added.

The lab needs Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments certification to open, and Phillips expects that to happen by the planned Jan. 4 open date.

“We’re going to hit the ground running,” Phillips said. “I already have between 500 and 600 people scheduled for that week.”

Until then, Austin Peay State University will provide the current COVID-19 Coronavirus testing 7:00am-noon every weekday except on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Austin Peay State University has administered more than 5,600 COVID-19 Coronavirus tests so far this fall.

Recognizing a team effort

Rutter wanted the community to know about the deep team involvement needed in making these efforts a reality at Austin Peay State University.

“While I may have played a part in persuading (former APSU president) Dr. (Alisa) White to consider the necessity of providing COVID-19 Coronavirus testing on campus, I am certainly not the one responsible for envisioning and installing our in-house testing lab, which we have today,” Rutter said.

“That project is the result of the excellent thought leadership and vision of my College of STEM colleagues, including Karen Meisch, Perry Scanlan, Chad Brooks, Heather Phillips and others who knew more about the benefits of processing test samples than I did,” he continued. “They deserve all the credit.”

And Phillips lauded the frontline healthcare workers at Austin Peay State University  – and throughout the community. Phillips’ testing team includes a graduate assistant and four nurses.

The frontline workers at Austin Peay State University “are exposed to COVID-19 every single day,” she said. “We have all made sacrifices with our families, with our friends, with our children. I have not even kissed or loved or hugged my child in months because I’m concerned about giving them this virus that I work with every day.

“Thank your healthcare workers. Thank your frontline workers,” she added. “They are sacrificing an abundance of family time and personal time.”


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