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Wright-Patterson lab leads COVID testing for Department of Defense

Senior Airman Brian Holloway and Staff Sgt. Gregory Railey decontaminate COVID-19 specimens before transporting them to the 711th Human Performance Wing's Epidemiology Lab at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine in April 2020.

KRISTEN VAN WERT/U.S. AIR FORCE

By THOMAS GNAU | Dayton Daily News | Published: September 17, 2020

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(Tribune News Service) — For six crucial months, a laboratory based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has been on the front line of helping fight the global COVID-19 pandemic for the Department of Defense.

Since mid-March, the 711th Human Performance Wing’s Epidemiology Lab has tested 120,648 specimens for SARS-CoV-2 testing purposes. The current mean turnaround time for testing is 19.1 hours, a Wright-Patterson spokesman said.

“No other lab in the department even comes close to their daily production or their daily test samples,” Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, commander of the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), said Wednesday. “It’s up to 4,000 samples a day, and they’re running operations seven days a week."

“Super-impressed by them,” she added.

During a media roundtable, Pringle was unable to say how many people are involved in the effort, but she said at some point, as operations were being ramped up, help was contracted out and extra manpower was brought in.

“They had to maintain safety as well, while they were testing, and they did a great job of building cohorts that didn’t see each other and didn’t pass (each other), so they could keep operations going,” Pringle said. “But they also looked at a contract option. And they leveraged other professionals from the Air Force as well.”

The lab is at Wright-Patterson, confirmed Chief Master Sgt. Kennon Arnold, AFRL’s command chief.

Once the sample is received at the Epidemiology Laboratory, it is logged and patient data is verified, the base has said. Part of the responsibility of a clinical reference lab is to ensure that the specimen received is from the correct patient, and that the correct test is ordered, the base also said.

Once this information has been validated, the sample is ready for processing, as Wright-Patterson has described the testing process.

“Since the Epidemiology Lab possesses the Air Force’s most modern and high-throughput diagnostic medical instrumentation, it serves as the DoD’s premier COVID testing center receiving specimens from across the globe,” Lt. Col. Patrick Cutter, 88 Medical Group Laboratory Flight commander, said in April.

©2020 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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