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Roswell Park to play big role in tracking COVID-19

It will take a couple weeks before testing for the new coronavirus will begin at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, but when ready, the center would each day be able to test as many as 100 potential cases with the hope of getting results that same day, the head of Roswell Park said Sunday.

"When and if cases are detected in Western New York, we want to be able to isolate those folks, isolate this virus, so being able to test and get those results in rapid fashion will be a good thing for all of us in this community," said Candace S. Johnson, Roswell Park's president and CEO. "It's a very big positive we're doing this testing."

Roswell Park is waiting for the necessary equipment needed to perform the automated testing and meet protocols set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johnson explained.

"We're in the process of getting this all ramped up," Johnson said. "It will probably be a couple weeks before we're able to actually do the test. You’ve got to get it set up so that when you do the test they’re appropriately done. But my understanding is it would be rapid – potentially the same day turnaround."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Saturday announced he is seeking federal approval to allow for faster automated testing for the virus at six laboratories across the state, including Roswell Park.

Johnson spoke with members of the media on Sunday about Roswell's role.

The CDC urges people to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to avoid spreading the coronavirus and other viruses. (Getty Images)

Why a cancer  hospital?

The cancer center has a great deal of experience dealing with infectious diseases. Roswell patients are immunocompromised and the hospital has developed sophisticated tests that, under the direction of Dr. Jan Nowak, a molecular virologist, are able to detect various types of cold and flu viruses to better manage how patients deal with those diseases, Johnson said.

"We're the only one in Western New York that provide those tests, and so who better to do those tests for COVID-19 but Roswell Park," Johnson said.

Johnson didn't want to speculate how many potential cases Roswell Park might end up testing, but expects it will be able to test as many as 100 a day – possibly more.

No cases have been confirmed in Western New York, so far.

Johnson emphasized that testing for the new coronavirus isn't done randomly on individuals, but rather determined by their health care provider.

"People will not be physically walking through our doors to get tested," Johnson said. "The test is a nasal swab. It gets put in a tube and sealed and gets sent to us. So people are not coming through our doors saying, 'Test me for coronavirus.'"

Johnson also wanted to provide reassurances.

"Doing the testing here at Roswell doesn't put anyone – either our patients, their families or our employees – at risk for COVID-19," Johnson said. "These samples are not infectious. They just come to us to determine whether we can detect the virus."

Meanwhile,  SUNY Buffalo State officials announced Saturday that no students would be quarantined there over the weekend for the novel coronavirus.

SUNY officials had announced tentative plans earlier last week to use Tower 2, a vacant dormitory on the Buffalo State campus, as a 14-day quarantine site for SUNY students returning by chartered flights from study in Italy, Japan and South Korea, countries hard hit by COVID-19.

Several of those students will be going to SUNY Brockport for quarantine

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