How South Africa Used National Cycle Threshold (Ct) Values to Continuously Monitor SARS-CoV-2 Laboratory Test Quality

The high demand for SARS-CoV-2 tests but limited supply to South African laboratories early in the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a heterogenous diagnostic footprint of open and closed molecular testing platforms being implemented. Ongoing monitoring of the performance of these multiple and varied systems required novel approaches, especially during the circulation of variants. The National Health Laboratory Service centrally collected cycle threshold (Ct) values from 1,497,669 test results reported from 6 commonly used PCR assays in 36 months, and visually monitored changes in their median Ct within a 28-day centered moving average for each assays’ gene targets. This continuous quality monitoring rapidly identified delayed hybridization of in the Allplex & trade; SARS-CoV-2 assay due to the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant; gene target failure in the TaqPath & trade; COVID-19 assay due to B.1.1.7 (Alpha) and the B.1.1.529 (Omicron); and recently gene delayed hybridization in the Xpress SARS-CoV-2 due to XBB.1.5. This near ;real-time; monitoring helped inform the need for sequencing and the importance of multiplex molecular nucleic acid amplification technology designs used in diagnostics for patient care. This continuous quality monitoring approach at the granularity of Ct values should be included in ongoing surveillance and with application to other disease use cases that rely on molecular diagnostics.