Orlando Health Laboratory expertise, experience, and dedication led to development of COVID-19 test for in-house use.

In-house test delivered faster results for patients, and more efficient and appropriate treatment, use of PPE and other resources.

ORLANDO, Fla. (April 28, 2020) --- A small team from the Orlando Health Department of Pathology with unique skill sets, expertise, experience, and dedication came together for something big – the development of a COVID-19 lab test that could be used in-house to collect swabs/specimens and produce timely, accurate results. With the in-house lab test, results are available within 24 hours. Timely results are especially important at a time when labs across the country are receiving countless samples from hospitals, and patients are anxiously awaiting results that may unfortunately take several days.

Wang “Steve” Cheung, MD, PhD, pathologist, vice chair, Orlando Health Department of Pathology, set up the test with the assistance of many including Raymond Franklin, MD, PhD, pathologist, chair, Orlando Health Department of Pathology, Mary Jean White, senior medical technologist, Molecular Diagnostic, Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center, and other team members. The test falls under the Food and Drug Administration approval for the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emergency Use Authorization.

“The availability of reliable COVID -19 tests results that did not require sending samples to external labs was a major turning point for us,” said George Ralls, MD, System Chief Quality Officer and Vice President, Orlando Health.  “At the time our internal testing capability was being developed, we were amongst many hospital systems in Florida relying on the same small number of external labs to provide us with these critical results in a timely manner. Test results were needed for clinical decision making, logistical planning, and decisions about how to use our crucial supply of personal protective equipment.”

The everyday importance of laboratory services is tremendously heightened during a pandemic as was learned firsthand.

“What we do in the lab answers important questions for patients wanting to know about their condition,” said Dr. Cheung. “What we do in the lab also helps our operations prepare resources – PPE, staffing, patient care units, and other aspects. At the time, we were faced with the fact that outside testing was taking more and more days for results, and I thought about what we would need to do for a better solution. It’s an honor to be part of the many solutions helping our team continue to realize is mission.”

Sometimes the inspiration for something extraordinary strikes at a time of normalcy during unprecedented times, as was the case in this situation.

“We both happened to be at the same wedding when Dr. Cheung turned to me to discuss what would be needed to solve the problem of delayed results from external labs due to the high volume needs of hospitals across the country,” said Dr. Franklin. “Our team has years of experience and expertise in molecular biology. Dr. Cheung said, ‘We can do this.’ He is the hero. We all helped but he’s the hero. He started from scratch.”

Starting from scratch turned into research, searches for components needed, discussions with colleagues, extractions, detections, reagents, enzymes, primers, samples, and validations – words and lab terminology that are now familiar to many more individuals outside of the health care setting. This complex process is considered typical for experts in the lab.

After seven days and nights of testing and retesting to ensure accuracy and reliability for the validation studies, a final test emerged.

“Everyone in the team made this happened,” said Dr. Cheung. “Whether it is hunting down available reagents to be ordered, pipetting patient samples, or lending their molecular biology skills, they all play a part in making this in-house assay work.  Our team members at the Orlando Health laboratory are the true heroes.  They were all willing to work at any hours or days when I needed them.”  

While the laboratory team does not have the direct patient contact of other health care providers, the team has a direct impact.

 “The Laboratory has a major role to play during this pandemic,” said White. “It was amazing and encouraging to see everyone pull together to make this testing possible.”

Orlando Health continues to use multiple COVID-19 tests including the in-house test developed by its team, a second internal test manufactured by an outside company, and external labs for test results. The three testing options are critical to adequately address the ongoing volume of testing that is needed.

 “The Department of Pathology knocked down a major barrier for us early on in our pandemic response,” said Dr. Ralls. “Their efforts made a difference in how we treated patients and how well we understood the emerging threat of COVID-19 in Central Florida.  Orlando Health will continue to rely on our internal experts and work with external partners to refine the testing strategy, to include use of emerging antibody testing options, as we look forward to the pandemic recovery phase.”


About Orlando Health 

Orlando Health is a not-for-profit healthcare organization with $5.6 billion of assets under management. The system spans nine Florida counties with nearly 450 locations that include 13 wholly-owned or affiliated hospitals and emergency departments; rehabilitation services, cancer centers, heart institutes, imaging and laboratory services, wound care centers, more than 300 physician offices for adults and pediatrics, and 11 urgent care centers in partnership with CareSpot Urgent Care. In FY18, Orlando Health served approximately 167,000 inpatients, more than 2.7 million outpatients, and more than 20,000 international patients. The organization is home to the area’s only Level One Trauma Centers for adults and pediatrics, and is a statutory teaching hospital system that offers both specialty and community hospitals. Nearly 3,600 physicians have privileges across the system, which is also one of the area’s largest employers with nearly 20,500 employees. Additionally, Orlando Health provides more than $620 million in total value to the community in the form of charity care, community benefit programs and services, community building activities and more. Additional information can be found at