State Legislature, Governor Recognize Michigan Tech COVID-19 Lab

Three people wearing lab coats, face masks, and protective eyewear work in the COVID-19 testing laboratory.
Three people wearing lab coats, face masks, and protective eyewear work in the COVID-19 testing laboratory.
Michigan Tech’s facility is the only university campus-based COVID-19 testing lab in the state.
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The special tribute, presented at the Board of Trustees meeting, is dedicated to the University’s contribution to safety and quality of life in the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan Technological University’s COVID-19 testing laboratory was recognized in a special tribute April 30 by both houses of the Michigan Legislature and by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II for its contributions to community health and safety.

The special tribute commends the lab for “its rapid implementation at the start of the pandemic with the ability to perform high-volume COVID-19 testing with rapid turnaround results. The lab has had a dramatic and significant impact on the health and health care of residents in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.”

Two people hold a framed document between them.
Brenda Ryan, left, and Rep. Greg Markkanen hold the framed special tribute at the Board of Trustees meeting April 30. Image Credit: Adam Johnson/Brockit Photography

The diagnostic lab was rapidly mobilized in just weeks last April after the pandemic began to sweep the U.S. It celebrated its anniversary April 22. Michigan Tech’s facility is the only university campus-based COVID-19 testing lab in the state.

“It is a privilege to honor Michigan Tech's COVID-19 lab,” said Rep. Greg Markkanen (R-Hancock), who was in attendance at the Board of Trustees meeting and presented the tribute to the board. “The laboratory was key to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 across the Western U.P. I want to thank all who played a part in getting this lab off the ground. It was incredible to see all of the local resources come together to serve our community and ensure the laboratory's success.”

Brenda Ryan, chair of the Board of Trustees, thanked Markkanen for his role in initiating the COVID-19 testing lab.

“Michigan Tech is pleased to have been able to provide this resource to the Upper Peninsula during such a challenging time,” Ryan said. “The faculty, staff and students who have worked so hard to establish and operate the COVID-19 testing lab are the true heroes in this story and we thank them for all of their hard work over the past year.”

The tribute recognized the substantial involvement of a number of faculty and staff, including Caryn Heldt, David Dixon, Cary Gottlieb, Carsten Külheim, Stephen Techtmann, Jennifer Sanders, Cathy Jenich, Karl Meingast, Brooke Goulette, Mike Abbott, Natasha Chopp, Emmett Golde and Karyn Fay.

“We are incredibly proud of the work of the MTU COVID-19 testing lab,” said Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan). “When the pandemic was just starting to take hold last year, university faculty and administration had the foresight to see that the epidemic had the potential to destroy a way of life for the students and the university community, as well as the entire western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Their impressive contribution to a more safe and secure quality of life for residents is to be commended.”

Special Tribute to the COVID-19 Testing Lab

Below is the full text of the tribute.

LET IT BE KNOWN, That is a genuine privilege to recognize the Michigan Technological University COVID-19 Testing Lab in Houghton, Michigan. We commend this lab for its rapid implementation at the start of the pandemic with the ability to perform high-volume COVID-19 testing with rapid turnaround results.  The lab has had a dramatic and significant impact on the health and health care of residents in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In early 2020, when the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic was just starting to take hold in this country, Michigan Technological University (MTU) faculty and administration had the foresight to see and understand that an epidemic had the potential to destroy a way of life for the students and the university community, as well as the entire western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. MTU is a hub of high-power academia in the middle of a sparsely populated region and is filled with fiercely independent residents — lovingly called Yoopers. 

A person wearing a lab coat, face mask, and protective eyewear uses a pipette under a vent hood.
Momoko Tajiri performs RNA extraction for a batch of patient samples in the MTU COVID-19 Testing Lab.

It was quickly realized that through early identification of infection by SARS-CoV-2 and with subsequent isolation of the infected person (and others identified through contact tracing), MTU could keep its academic mission on track, keep students in class, and continue ongoing research. Furthermore, it was realized that if a testing lab could be developed with enough capacity, testing could be offered to the surrounding community. Within months, a conceptual idea transformed into a functioning SARS-CoV-2 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing lab. This occurred with an amazing group of MTU faculty members and students from a diverse group of fields (including forestry), non-academic support staff (such as material management and the shipping and receiving office), and full financial and time support of the MTU administration. Without the substantial involvement of Caryn Heldt, David Dixon, Cary Gottlieb, Carsten Külheim, Stephen Techtmann, Jennifer Sanders, Cathy Jenich, Karl Meingast, Brooke Goulette, Mike Abbott, Natasha Chopp, Emmett Golde and Karyn Fay, this process would have taken years to complete.

The MTU COVID-19 testing lab became the largest-volume SARS-CoV-2 lab in the Upper Peninsula. The lab was able to begin testing students and MTU employees. The U.P. community benefited from this lab as well. Nursing homes from over 100 miles away were bringing samples to MTU — using them as a backup when the local health department and local doctor offices were overwhelmed with COVID-19 testing. For a time, the MTU COVID-19 Testing Lab was able to offer the most tests per day in the entire state of Michigan.

IN SPECIAL TRIBUTE, Therefore, this document is signed and dedicated to honor the Michigan Technological University COVID-19 Testing Lab for this impressive contribution to a more safe and secure quality of life for residents in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. 

Gregory Markkanen, State Representative

Ed McBroom, State Senator

Gretchen Whitmer, Governor

Garlin Gilchrist II, Lieutenant Governor

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.

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