April 27, 2020 | BY Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany Murphy
Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, also known as Lab Week, is observed annually to promote awareness and show appreciation to medical laboratory professionals and pathologists for the work they do.
This year, however, Lab Week is taking place under different circumstances. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, medical laboratory staffs are having to adapt to keep patients safe during a worldwide pandemic.
To show their support, members of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, made this year's Lab Week theme "The Silent Warriors behind COVID."
While safety procedures such as wearing face masks have been put in place across the installation, the operations at the 30th HCOS laboratory have not changed. Patients are still greeted by lab technicians, who are able to safely obtain samples and perform the critical tests needed to ensure patients are receiving the care they need, despite the challenges imposed by COVID-19.
The job of a laboratory technician is not as easy as simply drawing blood. Lab techs, and the information they provide, are extremely important to mission readiness. Once they draw blood, they perform tests that aid in various diagnoses. Their continuous support directly aids the 30th Space Wing's individual medical readiness, flight physicals and occupational health readiness.
As members at the 30th HCOS continue to provide care during the pandemic, they are focused on finding better and timelier ways to assist their patients.
In addition to the daily diagnostic activities, lab techs are at the forefront of implementing new diagnostics and therapies for better patient care.
Air Force Capt. Lenita Campbell, the officer in charge of diagnostics and therapeutics, said Vandenberg was the first base in the Space Force and the second outpatient clinic in the Defense Department to provide COVID-19 testing. In addition to standard testing, the COVID-19 rapid testing capability was brought to the 30th Medical Group about a week before the start of Lab Week.
"BioFire technology is a game changer," said Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Rountree, the 30th HCOS commander. "Before BioFire, all tests were shipped to one of our DOD reference labs in San Diego, which had a 24- to 72-hour turnaround time. Bringing this new technology to the 30th Medical Group allows us to get results within an hour, which will support operational and health care decisions."
Because supplies are limited, BioFire will be used on a case-by-case basis. If patients meet the criteria for testing, two types of tests can be administered. A mission impact assessment made by affected commanders and the base public health officer will determine if the affected member's test will be done in-house or sent to a military reference laboratory.
"The laboratory team was very excited to bring this technology to Vandenberg because this will allow our health care providers to collect from symptomatic patients and have results within an hour," Campbell said. "This will allow for quicker diagnosis of the disease, which will ultimately protect our military mission and community by issuing proper isolation and quarantine protocols to anyone exposed. Additionally, a faster result time has the potential to reduce the number of people placed in quarantine which keeps our members launching rockets, one lab test at a time."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany Murphy is assigned to the 30th Space Wing.)