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Channel 2 Investigates goes inside the Houston lab that’s testing hundreds of COVID-19 samples every day

HOUSTON – Inside a nondescript building off the Katy Freeway, some of the most important work in Houston is being done.

Scientists and technicians at Altru Diagnostics take swabs, about 1,200 each day, and determine whether they have COVID-19 or not. Before the crisis, Altru tested for all sorts of infectious diseases. But CEO Dr. Jesse Howard and his staff had the foresight to take action when it became apparent that a pandemic was coming.

“Once we started seeing it come out of China, we started getting things in order,” says Howard. “We were one of the first labs in Texas to get validated.”

After the lab was certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, those swabs from real, scared people who visited testing sites across Houston and the U.S. are reduced to a series of numbers. The biohazard bags arrive by courier non-stop, and each tiny sample is tracked from beginning to end.

“If we had one specimen come through the door, start to finish it would be about 4.5 hours,” Howard said.

Of course, there’s not just one, so Altru tries to turn around batch results. The fates of hundreds of people are delivered in 10 to 24 hours. Less than 8% of the results are positive and all of it passing through a 3,000-square-foot lab just outside the loop.

“We are testing all of our employees weekly and nobody has come back positive," Howard said.

Altru is now preparing for the next phase of the COVID-19 fight -- antibody testing, which is the chief indicator in COVID-19 resistance.