Seven years after breaking ground, the Mississippi Department of Health held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday for its new state public health laboratory.

Unlike the previous facility, which was built in 1959, the new one meets the national standards established for laboratories that work with highly infectious diseases. At 80,000 square feet, it doubles the size of the old laboratory.

“Really what the difference is, we have the infrastructure in place to do our testing more in house. At our old facility we were limited – sometimes we couldn’t plug multiple instruments in, in the same room,” said Dr. Daphne Ware, Clinical Services Director of the Public Health Laboratory. “We can also test for things that no one else wants to test for, such as samples of the Ebola virus.”

Because the facility contains 3,000 square feet of Biosafety Level 3 Containment Areas, staff can now work on highly infectious agents such as smallpox, anthrax and ricin. They can also test in-house for the Zika virus, according to Liz Sharlot, director of communications for the Department of Health.

Although the facility cost $36 million, Ware said it will ultimately save the state money.

“To send testing out to other labs, of course that costs money,” Ware said. “It kind of allows us to maintain a good base for public health science when we have scientists who can readily absorb new tests, because without that our state would be limited with how we could respond to events.”

The facility was named in honor of Dr. F. E. “Ed” Thompson Jr., who served as State Health Officer from 1993 until 2002 and again from 2007 until his death in 2009. According to Ware, Thompson spearheaded the effort for a new state laboratory.

“We are just happy to celebrate Mississippi having a 21st century lab that honors Dr. Thompson for all his work and services,” Sharlot said.

Contributing: Zachary Oren Smith

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.