As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, the collaborative and innovative spirit of Sinai Health kicks in. This story series highlights our people and their efforts during these unprecedented times.  In the first in our series, we hear from Christine Bruce, Administrative Director, Microbiology for Sinai Health and University Health Network, and Dr. Tony Mazzulli, Sinai Health’s Microbiologist-in-Chief, on the lab’s role in fighting the outbreak.

For those whose job revolves around processing medical test results every day, the COVID-19 pandemic is the ultimate test.

Stepping up to play a critical role in Ontario’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, conducting tests and confirming new cases, Sinai Health’s microbiology laboratory team is up for the challenge.

The microbiology lab shared between Sinai Health and University Health Network (UHN) was the first hospital lab in the province to go live with testing for COVID-19. In a matter of weeks, it mobilized to process up to 1,200 tests a day and deliver results in just 24 to 36 hours.

Dr. Tony Mazzulli, Microbiologist-in-Chief at Sinai Health, said this is in addition to the 250,000 tests the lab processes in a typical year.

“We’re not just doing our regular hospital volumes, but we’re taking on a significant portion of specimens from the GTA and beyond,” Dr. Mazzulli said. “Next to the Public Health Ontario lab, we have the largest capacity to do testing for the province, not only for our institution, but for others as well.”

This has led to laboratory medicine suddenly being thrust into the spotlight and fielding questions from many different departments and institutions.

“For a lot of people, they don’t really pay much attention to the lab until something isn’t great,” said Christine Bruce, Administrative Director for the microbiology laboratory. “It’s sort of that place in the basement or the sky that results come from, but now everyone is calling Sinai Health to find out more about this test.”

Dr. Mazzulli, who has been at Sinai Health since 1993, said he is experiencing some déjà vu from the 2003 SARS epidemic.

“I was here and saw how the lab had to respond at that time, so this is sort of replaying itself in many of the same ways,” he said. “Different virus, different time, but the issues are all the same.”

For Christine, the COVID-19 pandemic means remaining agile to the ever-changing conditions and shifting her long-range planning to day-by-day. But Sinai Health’s committed and engaged team make it possible.

“It’s certainly relentless some days,” she said. “We just have to keep the machine going because the results are paramount to the province being able to decide what to do, whether it’s shutting more things down or opening things up, or otherwise.”

The team behind the Sinai Health and UHN microbiology laboratory is now looking at expanding to process up to 3,000 COVID-19 tests a day to support the needs of the province.

“We still have some capacity in the system at the moment and we’re continuing to expand,” Dr. Mazzulli said. “Everybody sees the curve is still going up. We are looking ahead and building more and more capacity over the next couple of weeks so that as the demand goes up, at least we’ll be ready.”

The Sinai Health Heroes story series highlights our people and their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.