Point-of-care testing model keeps schools open and communities safe

COVID-19 test.

By Kara Sweet

Published December 23, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jamie Latko, BS ’89, knew she had an obligation to the community.

“As pharmacists, we’re the most accessible health care providers in the community and we know how to talk to patients to ease those worries. ”
Jamie Latko, BS '89, Owner, Niagara Apothecary

In mid-November, much of Western New York was designated an “Orange Zone” due to quickly escalating COVID-19 rates. For Latko, this meant her sons’ schools would be required to test a minimum of 20% of their population on a rolling basis to remain open--a challenging task.

Her business, Niagara Apothecary, was already registered as a limited service laboratory for COVID-19 point-of-care (POC) testing. She had the supplies, the staff and the skill. She spent her Thanksgiving holiday planning a testing model for the schools, bringing nurses, technicians and support staff on board.

What is point-of-care (POC) testing?

Point-of-care (POC) tests, such as rapid COVID-19 tests, provide results within minutes of the test being administered, allowing for quick decisions about patient care. POC tests also make testing available to communities and populations that cannot readily access care.

Within a day of the POC testing at her sons’ schools, she was contacted by dozens of administrators from other schools to do the same. Her model was widely implemented and allowed ten private and Catholic schools in Erie County to remain open.

The POC testing at schools is only her morning job. She spends the rest of her day working at Niagara Apothecary, continuing COVID-19 testing and counseling patients. Fifteen to eighteen-hour days have become her new normal.

“There’s a lot of fear right now,” she says. “As pharmacists, we’re the most accessible health care providers in the community and we know how to talk to patients to ease those worries.”

Latko monitors all of the POC test results to assist with contact tracing. Out of the more than 1,800 students and teachers she has tested, only a handful have been positive for COVID-19. But results from Niagara Apothecary have been different.

“The most positive cases, by far, have come from community testing,” she says. “Thanksgiving family gatherings definitely caused an uptick.”

Preparing to immunize the community

She’s also thinking ahead to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. When her patients come in for flu, pneumonia or shingles vaccines, she adds them to a database to keep track of those who are most in need of the new vaccine.

Pharmacies will start administering the vaccine in Phase 2 of the state’s plan. Thanks to the efforts of Clinical Assistant Professor Christopher Daly, PharmD/MBA ’12, and his work with the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Networks, a clinically integrated network of community pharmacies, Latko and her team at Niagara Apothecary will be ready on day one to immunize the people of Western New York.

“This has been the most rewarding part of my career,” she says. “It’s a way to give back.”

For over 130 years, the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences has continually been a leader in the education of pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists, renowned for innovation in clinical practice and research. The school is accredited by the American Council of Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE) and is the No. 1 ranked school of pharmacy in New York State and No. 14 in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.