WT to donate COVID-19 testing kits to Amarillo health department

Recognizing the greater community need, West Texas A&M University will donate nearly all of its recently acquired COVID-19 tests to the City of Amarillo’s Public Health Department.

About 100 kits — made from supplies from veterinary labs, including in Amarillo — arrived on campus Wednesday. After reevaluating where the greatest need existed, WT officials decided to keep 10 on campus and donate the rest to the Amarillo health department.

That’s in line with the university’s desire to help the wider WT community.

“The Texas A&M University System’s responsiveness is powerful,” University President Dr. Walter Wendler said. “Making these kits available will assist health care providers in addressing the COVID-19 challenges in the Panhandle.

“Working closely with community and state health officials, we determined that the test kits were best used by the Amarillo health department as part of their overall efforts to ensure public health and safety,” Wendler continued. “We want to be a good partner to help rise above this pandemic and continue to be Panhandle strong.”

A total of 90 test kits will be sent to public health officials and 10 kits will remain in waiting at the WT Student Health Services in case they’re needed for students who are sheltering in place in the residence halls.

“We continue to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from local partners,” said Amarillo Public Health Director Casie Stoughton. “The donation of tests from WT is another great example of how this entire community has come together to support both the response to and the recovery from COVID-19. We couldn’t do it without help from the community, and we’re very grateful to WT for stepping up to the plate.”

The viral sampling kits were rushed to WT by the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station. The kits were assembled from lab supplies usually reserved for pigs, cows and chickens at A&M’s four diagnostic labs across the state.

“No one has ever done this before, but tough times call for creative measures,” said John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System.

WT already has a close relationship with the Amarillo veterinary lab, which will relocate to Canyon as part of the extensive Veterinary Education, Research & Outreach program, a groundbreaking partnership that will include Doctor of Veterinary Medicine curriculum.

Dr. Bruce Akey, director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station, said he sent out a plea for supplies to his labs in Amarillo, Center and Gonzales and they began overnighting the supplies late last week.

The kits consist of a swab, a vial with transport media to preserve the sample in the vial, and a bag. They usually cost about $4 to $5 if you were to order them in bulk before the pandemic swept through the existing stock. Now, these simple supplies are back-ordered for months, crippling efforts to test humans for COVID-19.

“We hope to get these sampling kits in the hospitals or clinics where they are most needed as soon as possible,” Akey said. “We are pulling out all the stops.”

Amarillo’s lab contributed swabs and vials, Akey said.

“They did have some of these supplies in amounts that they could do without for a few months,” he said.

Akey reiterated Sharp’s comments about the unprecedented nature of this collaboration between veterinary and human medical efforts.

“It doesn’t happen. Really,” Akey said. “These are unprecedented times. But you also don’t usually have people sewing their own masks at home. This is a perfect time for everyone to pitch in and do what they can.”