Partnership between County of Union and Kean transforms testing in New Jersey
A new federally certified campus lab that will process COVID-19 test results opened at Kean University today, building upon an unprecedented partnership with the County of Union in diagnostic testing and critical public health research during the pandemic. The lab will deliver test results in 24 to 48 hours.
With the new facility, Kean becomes one of the first universities without a medical or veterinary school to host a federally certified lab to process COVID-19 tests and marks a critical milestone in its work toward achieving formal designation as a research institution.
“Access to testing remains a critical part of our overall effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. “I am grateful to Union County officials and Kean University President Repollet for their collaboration and innovative partnership to expand the state’s testing capabilities to benefit all New Jerseyans. Together, we will continue the fight against COVID-19.”
The new lab is located in the Kean STEM Building at 1075 Morris Avenue on Kean’s main campus in Union Township. It was funded through the federal CARES Act for COVID-19 relief, under a combination of grants administered by Union County and the University. The Union County Division of Health also worked with Kean to equip the lab and apply for federal certification and licensing by the State of New Jersey, which expedited their review in the interest of public health.
To date, Union County has administered more than 100,000 COVID-19 tests at its drive-through site on Kean’s campus and via its mobile testing program, including 10,000 tests for residential students and athletes on Kean’s campus.
“Kean University has proven to be a dynamic, steadfast partner in our efforts to protect the Union County community during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Alexander Mirabella, chairman of the Union County Board of County Commissioners. “With the unwavering support of President Repollet and his team, we established the first free countywide drive-through test center in New Jersey, and we have continued to bring new COVID testing technology to the community during the outbreak. The new on-campus lab will enable our partnership to improve testing services even further, while providing students and educators with invaluable hands-on experience in COVID response and related fields.”
“Kean is on a path to become the next great research University in the state of New Jersey,” said Kean President Lamont O. Repollet, Ed.D. “This lab combines our research expertise from our world-class faculty with our commitment to public service. We are grateful for the chance to serve our fellow New Jerseyans during this pandemic and beyond. Keeping our community safe is truly a team effort. Kean cougars are always striving to climb higher academically, professionally, and in support of the larger community. This lab is part of much more to come.”
The new lab will enable the County to eliminate the need to ship specimens to other locations for processing. It is expected to deliver results in 24 to 48 hours for up to 30,000 tests per week from the drive-through center and other locations. Union County residents, first responders from around the state and members of the Kean community will all benefit from faster turnaround times for the free testing program.
The new lab is part of the University’s new Center for Clinical Laboratory Science and Pandemic Research, one of the first interdisciplinary academic centers in the nation to focus on education, clinical diagnostics and research of pandemics.
The Center also coordinates and facilitates pandemic research initiatives in science, social science and other disciplines across the University. In addition, the Center is the hub for launching new related academic programs.
“Kean is at the forefront of pandemic research on drug therapies and medicinal chemistry, social and emotional responses to mask wearing and more,” said Jeffrey H. Toney, Ph.D., Kean’s provost and vice president for research and faculty. “The Center brings that work together and allows the entire University community to benefit from our shared research on behalf of public health.”
The Union County Board of County Commissioners and Kean University mobilized scores of volunteers and professional staff to open Union County’s Drive-Through Center on March 23, 2020, when the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns struck the nation. In addition, the County Commissioners Board created the Union County COVID-19 Mobile Test Unit to conduct walk-up tests in local communities, including visits to senior residences and other vulnerable populations.
The new lab has been certified for COVID-19 testing by the federal Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and is licensed by the Division of Public Health and Environmental Laboratories in the New Jersey Department of Health. The lab is also in the process of applying for federal certification for influenza Types A and B, which is administered in the three-panel test provided by the Drive-Through Center.
Keith Bostian, Ph.D., dean of the New Jersey Center for Science, Technology and Mathematics at Kean, said launching the lab was a complex undertaking with the County that involved bringing in new equipment and hiring and training staff, including Kean alumni, to process results around the clock.
“Kean is a burgeoning hub for scientific research so launching this lab was a natural next step for the University,” Bostian said. “Not only are we advancing public health, but we’re also providing opportunities for our students and alumni to participate in this groundbreaking work and grow as scientists.”
Frequent testing was at the core of the Kean’s Return to Campus initiatives during the Fall semester. The University conducted weekly testing of all residents and made testing available to other members of the community, including those who remained remote and those who came to campus for hybrid courses. Similar protocols are planned for the Spring 2021 semester.