Until recently, travelers went there for their shots. Now it offers coronavirus tests. The University of Zurich is responding to the coronavirus pandemic by setting up a comprehensive range of high-quality testing services. Under the leadership of Professor Jan Fehr, the infectious disease expert who heads the Public & Global Health Department, the Travel Clinic has been repurposed to create a COVID-19 test center within a very short space of time. It is primarily designed to relieve the strain on family practices that are not able to or do not wish to do their own testing. Its services are also geared to members of University of Zurich and ETH staff who have contact with patients, as well as to other people in the canton who work in healthcare.
Rapid response to the crisis
“We wanted to provide something concrete in this acute situation,” says test center initiator Jan Fehr. “Given that the travel clinic is hardly used at the moment, it made sense to reduce its operations to a minimum and repurpose it.” More than 100 family doctors in the Canton of Zurich are already testing for COVID-19, but not all practices have a suitable set-up for this: “Family doctors face the challenge of arranging the available space to separate people with COVID-19 from other patients to minimize the risk of infection,” explains Oliver Senn at the Institute of Primary Care. “Not everyone can do that on their premises. Here the University of Zurich’s offering can relieve the strain.”
Since COVID-19 tests remain in short supply in Switzerland, the UZH test center follows Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) guidelines limiting testing to people with symptoms or who are at greater risk. Initially the idea is to test up to 60 people a day; depending on the need and possibilities available, testing can be expanded on an ongoing basis. “We hope that we’ll soon have greater lab capacity and will be able to test on a broader basis,” says Fehr.
After a patient is referred by their family doctor or staff medical services, they’ll have an initial consultation by phone. If they qualify for the test, they’ll be given an appointment, and once the test results are available, they’ll be discussed with the patient. If the test is positive, the person affected will receive instructions on home isolation, and the doctor who referred them will take charge of their further care.
Thinking beyond corona
A negative test does not necessarily mean someone is healthy and should be sent home without further investigation. “We’re thinking beyond corona,” says Milo Puhan, Director of the Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention Institute at UZH. “Whatever happens, we don’t want to miss cases of pneumonia that aren’t triggered by the coronavirus. In Switzerland, pneumonia is still one of the most common causes of illness and death among infectious diseases.” For this reason, the University of Zurich test center is working closely with the UniversityHospital Zurich, and together with the radiology department has set up an X-ray facility at the center itself. This way, for example, it will be possible to detect cases of pneumonia that are not connected with coronavirus.
The test center will open today, Monday, 30 March. The University of Zurich is offering this high-quality service in the interest of public health to complement the tests provided by family doctors and boost Canton Zurich’s COVID-19 testing capabilities.