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Project shines a light on difficulties faced by entities outside public health system to track and quell epidemic.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Oregon State University's veterinary program developed a COVID-19 test to fill gaps in local and state testing capabilities.Specialists at Oregon State University's veterinary laboratory figured they could help the state ramp up testing for coronavirus. They run a sophisticated facility with state-of-the-art testing equipment, and they're experts at diagnostics and tracking viruses.

But they couldn't just start running COVID-19 tests. They faced a tangle of red tape.

So they approached the Oregon Health Authority, and a lawmaker contacted Gov. Kate Brown's office for help. That led nowhere. The authority did not give them any support, and Brown's office did not follow up with them, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Lund Report.

The lab's managers did not give up. They forged ahead, dismantling obstacles without the state's help. They joined forces with a commercial medical lab in Corvallis. In a joint effort, the two labs plan to launch their first COVID-19 tests on Wednesday. The project expects to run nearly 1,000 COVID-19 a day, giving Oregon a much-needed boost in its efforts to track the virus.

Oregon's lack of adequate testing infrastructure has dogged the state's efforts to contain the virus. State public health officials repeatedly have said the state needs more tests to halt the spread. Yet they did not pursue a homegrown opportunity that taps the expertise of an Oregon university research laboratory.

From the start, testing has lagged in Oregon. Initial kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were faulty, and there was a lack of supplies. The state expected all tests to be conducted at the public health lab in Hillsboro but has since allowed testing by five hospital systems, two private labs and the University of Washington. Still, the state only has results for about 30,000 people, according to an Oregon Health Authority report on Monday.

The OSU project shines a light on the difficulties faced by entities outside the public health system to help Oregon track and quell the epidemic. The Oregon Health Authority apparently failed to recognize the contribution a veterinary lab could make despite examples in other states.

This Lund Report story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.

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