Augusta University’s role expands in statewide fight against COVID-19


Augusta University’s role in the state of Georgia’s fight against coronavirus is expanding.

Governor Brian Kemp made the announcement about AU’s growing responsibility during his Monday evening briefing. The National Guard’s Major General Thomas Carden says the program with Augusta University involves strategic initiatives.

“One of which is a 24-7 operation center that will be run out of Augusta University and that will serve as Governor Kemp’s un-blinking eye on coronavirus,” General Carden says.

NewsChannel 6’s Ashley Osborne sat down with AU President Dr. Brooks Keel, CEO Katrina Keefer and CMO Dr. Phillip Coule the morning after the state’s announcement to talk about their increased responsibility in the Georgia’s pandemic response.

Watch the full conversation with Dr. Brooks Keel, Katrina Keefer and Dr. Phillip Coule below

AU President Dr. Brooks Keel says local methods will be scaled up to help the whole state.

“With the power that the Governor has given the Army National Guard, it gives is the logistics opportunity, it’s the backbone to really take this thing to a next level,” Dr. Keel says.

All Georgians will have access to their telehealth screening app called Augusta Unviersity Expresscare.

“We have been doing this here in Augusta for more than a month now,” says Dr. Keel. “We’ve screened over 9,000 patients, telehealth screening of patients and have sent about 45% of those to testing centers.”

Now many of those collection sites will use 3D printed nasal swabs developed by AU’s Dental College, an instrument that’s hard to come by during this supply shortage.

“The environment that allows them to say–‘hey I’ve got a crazy idea, what if we did this’– is a wonderful thing about academia where people can raise those ideas and those ideas become a major solution,” says Dr. Phillip Coule.

Samples will be gathered from across the state on those 3D printed swabs and then the swabs will be sent back to AU labs to be tested for coronavirus.

“Once the result happens, that’s when the technology has to come into place to make sure that you’re able to collect that piece of information, get it to the patient properly, but also get it to the department of public health,” says Dr. Keel.

Patients who go through AU’s process provide valuable information that shows exactly who is testing positive and the state will have access to the data.

“The information that the individual gives us through the app is a lot of the good demographic information and as well as much of the medical history,” says Katrina Keefer.

AU is also talking to the Department of Public Health about having healthcare students help with contact tracing of coronavirus patients.

“We do not want to expose any of our medical students to a COVID-19 positive patient; however, there are so many learning opportunities and so much support that without direct contact, they can still contribute,” Keefer says.

The state and Augusta University will roll out many of these services in the coming days.

Photojournalist Gary Hipps

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