Nick Ibarra | Lookout Santa Cruz | December 17, 2020

Already a pillar of testing capacity for both the campus and wider community, UCSC’s COVID-19 testing lab is prepping to grow as it moves into a new home.

The UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Lab is expected to move off the main campus to a Westside Santa Cruz site early in 2021, UCSC announced this week. It will be housed at the Westside Research Park, a renovated office complex purchased by the university in 2004 that also serves as headquarters for UCSC’s Genomics Institute.

Opened in May, the facility is UCSC’s first-ever clinical laboratory. It has played a significant, and still growing, role in in boosting Santa Cruz County’s testing capacity — running more than 3,000 tests in a typical week, according to campus estimates.

Its output accounts for roughly a third of all weekly tests reported in the county.

Nearly half of those tests are run on behalf of residents in the wider community. UCSC runs tests at-cost for Santa Cruz Community Health and Salud Para La Gente, nonprofits serving low-income populations. And it offers testing to the Santa Cruz Main Jail and other public agencies and medical providers, either on an ongoing basis or to meet urgent needs.

Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency spokeswoman Corinne Hyland said the UCSC lab has at least two key benefits: A reliably speedy turnaround time of one to two days and a lack of reliance on certain testing materials that have been in short supply.

“That is extremely valuable to us as a county, and the resiliency of our county,” Hyland said.

So far, UCSC’s diagnostics lab has been able to keep up with growing demand.

“We have seen big spikes from some of our partners, but our model is to be responsive to emergencies, and we are working to address their needs,” said Isabel Bjork, executive director of the UCSC Genomics Institute, in a statement.

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