Pathology team continues to produce COVID-19 test kits for Johnson County

Jon Maakestad, photo
Jon Maakestad, Safety Compliance Specialist, supervises the reagent lab.

Last March, Jon Maakestad, a safety compliance specialist who runs the reagent lab of the Department of Pathology, received a call with one important question: Could the lab produce the reagent necessary for COVID-19 testing?

Fast forward to today, and the reagent lab—under Maakestad's supervision—is churning out 600 to 1000 test kits every day.

While it's been demanding, Maakestad understands that the role he and his team play is vital in ensuring that COVID-19 testing in Johnson County continues.

The more people we test, the easier we can identify who has the disease so that we can get them proper treatment and separated from folks who don't have it so that we can contain it, reduce it, hopefully eliminate it

— Jon Maakestad, Safety Compliance Specialist

In order to keep up with testing needs, Maakestad and his colleagues—including Student Lab Technician Brandon Frey—have put in long hours and weekend time.

"After we received the first request for test kits, we did the math and were like, yeah, there's no chance we'll get this done if we don't come in on the weekend," says Maakestad. "So, we came in and we crushed through like 1600 test kits on a Saturday and made it happen. But it's that kind of thing where you have to change what your work schedule is, put in some extra hours, do all the above and beyond stuff that needs to happen to get the job done."

Lauren Andrews, student lab technician, is another individual who's picked up the slack and adjusted her responsibilities to help the lab handle its mission.

"She assisted in various tasks we needed to continue to run the lab, and she learned the protocol Jon had for the production of the COVID-19 test kits in case we needed another person to help," says Frey. "I couldn't be prouder to be a member of the pathology team because it's clear that we all understand that the work we do on a daily basis is imperative to ensuring the patients we serve receive the best possible care."

Into the unknown

For Maakestad, Frey, and the rest of the reagent lab, the motivation they rely on to keep moving forward is never far away.

"One of the first days we started working on the production of the COVID-19 test kits, Jon said something that has motivated me through all the long hours we have spent working on them," says Frey. "He said to me, 'For every one of these kits that I'm doing, I think of it as a test that is going out to benefit a friend or family member.' That mindset drove home the idea that the work we're doing to produce these, at the rate we are, has an immediate impact on the community."

While the global supply of test kits may fluctuate, the effort of the reagent lab demonstrate that UI Hospitals & Clinics is taking steps to ensure our supply remains.

With shifting outbreak epicenters and the rise and fall of case numbers, the future can look, at times, uncertain. But one thing is for sure: Maakestad, Frey, Andrews, and the entire pathology team stand at the ready.