Amy Loftis takes charge and takes care
The Carolina Together Testing Program team got a lab up and running in an astonishing 11 weeks, making it possible for students to return to campus during the pandemic, before vaccines were widely available. For their heroic efforts in setting up and operating the COVID Surveillance Lab, Amy Loftis, Susan Fiscus and Dr. Amir Barzin received the prestigious Massey Award.
Carolina faculty members led the lab, with help from Olivia Council and Shuntai Zhou, two lab experts on loan from the UNC Center for AIDS Research. But the 36 members of its staff were temporary technicians, supplemented by the volunteer help of graduate students and the undergraduates of the Carolina COVID-19 Student Services Corps.
“They were helping with training, competency, verification of results, processing samples and getting results to people in a timely fashion … and turnover was high as people found permanent positions elsewhere,” wrote Dr. Myron Cohen, (director of the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases), in nominating Loftis for a Massey Award. “Amy found ways to thank the staff and help them feel valued, by feeding them, introducing games and writing thank you notes to let them know how much they were appreciated.”
Loftis is a medical laboratory supervisor for UNC Global Clinical Trials Unit and UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases. She has set up clinical trials and training in a dozen countries, from Brazil to Zambia, and, more recently, labs testing for Ebola in rural Liberia. She was the colleague Fiscus, her mentor and the former faculty member called out of retirement to direct the COVID Surveillance Lab, said she needed to be her associate lab director.
Read the full story in The Well.
Reluctant hero coaxed out of retirement to direct COVID-19 testing lab
Susan Fiscus knew what her colleague and mentor was asking for was clearly impossible. Before the director of the Retrovirology Core Laboratory retired from Carolina in 2014, she spent 25 years setting up testing labs around the world. The exacting process required to get a certified facility up and running could take several months to complete.
But Dr. Cohen proposed a much speedier project when he called Fiscus in October 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on and months before vaccines were available. If Carolina had any hope of returning students to in-person classes in spring 2021, explained the director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, a comprehensive and rigorous testing process needed to be in place almost immediately.
The COVID Surveillance Lab he wanted her to direct would have to be operational no later than Jan. 11, 2021.
Cohen called on Fiscus for her help precisely because she was retired. All the other active researchers on campus with her testing expertise were already committed to other COVID-19 projects. Fiscus was the only one with the experience and time on her hands.
Read about Susan Fiscus in The Well.
Leading the campus testing effort
Amir Barzin, MD, assistant professor in the department of family medicine and medical director for UNC Health Virtual Care Services and UNC Health Clinical Contact Center worked at the forefront of Carolina’s response to the COVID-19 global health crisis. He led UNC Health’s Respiratory Diagnostic Center to deliver rapid testing early in the pandemic, all while continuing to provide exemplary care to his patients. He then served as director of the Carolina Together Testing Program, leading campus COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. The campus testing effort has been the most important factor in enabling Carolina to stay safe and resume more normal campus operations. He also has provided critical health communications to the University and to the state of North Carolina throughout the pandemic. Barzin’s tireless efforts and commitment to the CTTP, to the University and Chapel Hill community, and to the state of North Carolina have been nothing short of extraordinary.