University of Maine System Partners to Provide COVID-19 Testing
University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy and Chancellor Dannel Malloy announced Tuesday that the University of Maine System (UMS) has entered into partnerships with the nonprofit biomedical research institution The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) and ConvenientMD (CMD) to provide comprehensive COVID-19 testing services.
Under the agreements, CMD will provide “wrap around” services, establishing sites at each UMS university to gather samples and administer and report results. The samples will be tested by JAX for the presence of the virus. The partnership will focus on RT-PCR testing, which is considered one of the most reliable COVID-19 tests, with high accuracy and low false positives.
JAX’s CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) and CAP-accredited laboratory had, until recently, focused on complex tumor profiling assays to help cancer patients and their clinicians learn more about specific tumors to try to identify the most appropriate treatment options for patients. When the pandemic hit, the nonprofit quickly adapted its capabilities and expertise to now also test patient samples for the presence of a specific RNA signature unique to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The laboratory has established testing agreements with clinical, governmental, academic, and business partners.
Testing strategies and logistics are being developed to accommodate all seven UMS universities and the University of Maine School of Law. Planning for the effort has been guided by the University of Maine System Scientific Advisory Board, which was formed by Chancellor Malloy to support the Fall 2020 Safe Return Planning Committee. The board is chaired by UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy.
“We have deployed UMaine’s capacity for science and innovation in service to our state throughout the pandemic,” said President Ferrini-Mundy. “The Scientific Advisory Board has been a tremendous resource in our planning. We know that one of our biggest community health challenges is that asymptomatic people can be transmitting the coronavirus for weeks. Our screening strategies will help us identify and isolate infection.”
UMaine assistant professor of microbiology Melissa Maginnis, a virologist who leads the UMS Scientific Advisory Board, notes that, “the coronavirus is especially stealthy and can be transmitted for up to 14 days by carriers who feel healthy and show no signs of infection. The biomedical community is working very hard to develop a vaccine and antiviral treatments for COVID-19 but we may still be several months or more away from a breakthrough.”
“We can take important, scientifically-proven steps to protect ourselves and prepare our universities to be as safe as possible,” Maginnis says. “Proactively identifying infected, asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus and isolating them while they are contagious is an important part of our university community health strategy.”
Public-Private Partnership for Student, Faculty, Staff, and Community Health
“At The Jackson Laboratory we are dedicated to having a positive impact on human health, and as part of that mission, we are proud to join together as a community to help one another during this pandemic,” said Dr. Edison T. Liu, president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory. “Our partnership with the University of Maine System in helping students and university faculty and staff safely return to school will have a broad impact across the state as a scientifically based reopening strategy.”
"The safety of students, faculty, university employees, and the medical community are of utmost importance during this time and we will continue to take proactive steps to navigate this pandemic as it continues to evolve," said Dr. Mark Pundt, president and chief medical officer of ConvenientMD. “We’re excited to provide COVID-19 testing services for the University of Maine System and all its students living on campus to continue the mission of reducing the spread of this virus as much as possible.”
“Our partnership with The Jackson Laboratory and ConvenientMD, leaders in their respective sectors, will help our universities meet our commitments to student, faculty, staff, and community health this fall as we consider how to safely resume campus-based work and learning,” Chancellor Malloy said.
The University of Maine System and its universities will announce plans and additional practices for the fall on July 1.