ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The COVID-19 pandemic forced thousands of students to leave campus last fall. But when they came back this past fall, local schools faced a new challenge; testing them for the virus. The University of Albany handled a thousand tests a day without leaving campus.

“This testing allow students to continue to be in here in person and allow many of the staff here to keep their jobs,” said Sharon Shaughnessy, lab technician at the UAlbany RNA Institute.

Last fall UAlbany established the nations first university center dedicated to testing salvia through a pooled surveillance program. They are testing for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA.

The University is taking an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to fighting against COVID-19.

The RNA Institute is located in UAlbany’s state-of-the-art Life Sciences Research Building. Senior Claudia Lennon works in the RNA Institute as a lab technician and she says has been a key part of keeping the community safe.

“When you are able to identify positive samples, we know that we are helping our community out and reaching out to these people has been really awarding,” said Lennon.

During the past school year, they tested 1,500 to 2,000 samples a day. To date, the RNA Institute testing facility has handled over 80,000 samples from UAblany staff, students, and faculty as well as external partners such as SEFCU and Siena College.

UAlbany RNA Institute lab technician Amy Mascorro says once the RNA sample is dropped in the bin, its a multi step process.

“We sample them first so that we can heat treat them, so that the RNA is deactivated and no longer contagious. Then we can freely work with it however we see fit,” said Mascorro.

Congressman Paul Tonko toured the UAlbany RNA Institute on Wednesday. He says the federal government is ready to invest in this institute even more.

Congressman Tonko’s “Community Project” plans to invests in infrastructure to attract new families, jobs, businesses and opportunities. Projects were submitted to the House Committee on Appropriations for consideration. Each member was able to submit 10 Community Project requests for 2022.

“This is an advancement in treatment for COVID, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s disease and more. All of this is potential success in conquering these diseases, cutting cost and saving lives,” said Congressman Tonko.