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Rising to the challenge

As COVID-19 threatened the lives, livelihoods and mental well-being of people worldwide, Arizona State University met the unprecedented challenges with speed, agility and teamwork.

Information on COVID-19 saliva testing

As part of ASU’s effort, Biodesign researchers, faculty, staff and students sprang into action, joining forces with the state, health care agencies, businesses and nonprofits in the epic battle against COVID-19.

Together, we filled the urgent need for vaccinations and testing, provided powerful data to model the spread of COVID-19, sequenced the virus’s genome and tracked variants, offered trusted expertise, helped Arizona’s economy to thrive, addressed the state’s critical need for personal protective equipment, and innovated solutions for a healthier tomorrow.

Though the initial shock of the pandemic may be behind us, researchers from disciplines across ASU are tackling challenges that still lie ahead, from improving vaccines and tracking viral variants to understanding and treating long COVID.

Within a year of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S., ASU researchers, faculty, staff, students and partners have:

  • Developed and deployed the first saliva-based COVID-19 PCR test publicly available in the U.S.
  • Set up a clinically approved and certified COVID-19 testing lab.
  • Processed more than 800,000 free tests over a year with an average 27-hour turnaround time.
  • Stood up and operated hundreds of COVID-19 testing sites throughout Arizona.
  • Provided key data to track and predict the spread of the pandemic and its impact.
  • Delivered more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccines by partnering with state agencies to support logistics and staffing of 24/7 inoculation sites.
  • Received the Arizona Governor’s Innovator of the Year award for COVID-19 response.
  • Sequenced more than 100,000 samples of the COVID-19 virus.

Read more about our accomplishments in the first year since COVID-19 arrived in Arizona.

ASU Clinical Testing Laboratory

What began as an academic lab working to develop rapid radiation exposure tests quickly transformed into a clinical lab that could offer rapid COVID-19 testing. Today, this lab is the powerhouse behind ASU’s response to COVID-19 in the community.

Filling the urgent need for testing

ASU researchers have rapidly adapted to the needs of the community — first for free, fast and accessible testing, then for rapid vaccine distribution. After COVID-19 first appeared in Arizona, Biodesign shifted its capabilities to create a clinically approved and certified COVID-19 testing lab within two weeks. Soon afterward, the lab began processing thousands of samples a day, delivering results in an average of 27 hours, while much of the nation was plagued by the limited availability of tests and long wait times for results.

Serving the underserved

ASU partnered with the Arizona Department of Health Services in July 2020 to provide free, public COVID-19 testing in communities around the state, serving up to 100,000 Arizonans. A $4.7 million federal grant allowed ASU to identify “testing deserts,” a first step toward boosting testing and assistance for 10 underserved communities. ASU also led federally funded outreach that applied wastewater-based epidemiology to detect coronavirus in reservation sewer systems and assess Indigenous community health faster.

Overcoming the challenge of mass COVID-19 vaccinations

Though highly effective vaccines were developed and deployed in record time, it’s proving a logistical challenge to inoculate enough Arizonans to achieve herd immunity — the benchmark at which enough people are immune to the virus to stop its deadly spread. ASU helped overcome the hurdle by partnering with the state to expand capacity and improve efficiency of vaccination sites.

Battling future viral threats

New viral variants even more contagious than those that started the pandemic are emerging. ASU researchers are tracking many variant strains using next-generation sequencing at ASU’s Genomics Facility to rapidly read through all 30,000 chemical letters of the SARS-CoV-2 genetic code. ASU has also teamed up with TGen and the state’s two other public universities to form the Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union, which uses big data analysis and genetic mapping to inform health care providers and public policymakers in the fight against the pandemic.

Providing powerful data and trusted expertise

The uncertainty brought about by the pandemic highlighted the need for reliable, trustworthy information. ASU rose to the occasion, emerging as a leading provider of data about the coronavirus and its rapid spread in Arizona. Researchers also contributed their time and expertise to educate the public about the latest science and clear up misconceptions about vaccines.

Addressing the state’s critical PPE shortage

As if facing a pandemic wasn’t bad enough, a shortage of personal protective equipment threatened health care providers working hard to save lives — a call to action for ASU researchers. The university created an online network that enlists community members with access to resources such as 3D printers and sewing machines to rapidly produce personal protective equipment. Months into the COVID-19 crisis, the ongoing shortage of PPE forced hospitals to rely on sterilizing and reusing equipment to shore up supplies. Researchers have developed a variety of options to make sterilization fast, effective and affordable.

Join us in confronting these challenges

Your gift provides direct support to dedicated scientists working around the clock on COVID-19 testing capabilities, treatments, virus tracking and vaccine development for COVID-19.