Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Laboratory professionals play important role in fight against COVID-19

Military health personnel wearing a face mask prepares COVID-19 test samples 30th Medical Group Medical Lab Technician Air Force Staff Sgt. Cody Emery prepares a COVID-19 test sample for processing April 8 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California (Photo by: Michael Peterson, 30th Space Wing ).

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Medical Laboratory Professionals Week recognizes the behind-the-scenes work laboratorians do to generate clinical lab results and, ultimately, guide the courses of treatment for patients throughout the military and civilian health systems.

The week, April 18-24, holds special significance this year as labs throughout the Defense Health Agency have been a key contributor to the fight against COVID-19.

Within military medicine, the laboratory community consists of officers, who serve as lab managers, technicians, who are doing the actual testing and reporting or "lab work," and civilians, who do everything from sample collection to management.

"My mission as a lab officer, and the mission of the lab community as a whole, is to ensure timely and accurate reporting of results," said Lt. Col. Paul Nelson, chief of the Air Force Medical Service COVID Lab Team at the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency, located at DHA headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia. "Our job is to take the samples, run tests and get the results back out in a timely manner, and those results have to be accurate. That encompasses everyone who works in the laboratory."

Nelson explained that the pandemic hasn't changed the overall job description of the lab technician or the steps that are followed to obtain accurate results, but it has most definitely changed what they are testing for and their ability to test for it.

"What happened at the beginning of the pandemic is that COVID testing became priority No. 1," Nelson said. "We went from having absolutely zero COVID testing capacity to being able to provide roughly 200,000 tests a week if we needed to."

Getting to this point required a lot of work behind the scenes, Nelson said, including acquiring testing machines, training technicians how to use them, learning how to correctly take and store samples, and quickly and correctly reporting results.

Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Aramatou Toure, Navy Clinical Laboratory Improvement Program manager at the Center for Laboratory Medicine Service, also located at DHA headquarters, said the amount of work has also increased.

"I would say our workload has almost tripled here," said Toure. "The Clinical Laboratory Improvement program deals with certifying new sites for testing. Since COVID began we've obviously had an increase in labs that needed to be able to test for it."

Nelson noted Medical Laboratory Professionals Week provides much-needed recognition for the laboratory community, especially this year.

"The highlight this year is "laboratorians get results," and honestly that's what it all boils down to - we have the job of providing accurate and timely results so that medical decisions can be made," Nelson said. "Without the lab, you don't have the diagnoses. You don't have, "this person is positive for COVID and therefore they need medical intervention."

Toure agreed.

"This time around, it has an extra importance," said Toure. "Lab techs have been working around the clock during this pandemic to meet the testing requirements and accomplish the mission, and we've done it and are still doing it."

The spotlight has been on COVID-19 the past year. The work that medical labs do in the discovery and subsequent treatment of other conditions, however, shouldn't be overshadowed.

"Without the lab, you also don't get the cancer diagnosis or any other medical condition you can think of that has laboratory testing as part of the workup," Nelson said.

Although the past year has challenging, the opportunity that the lab community has been given to make a difference has made it worth it, according to Nelson.

"What we do is very challenging in normal times and COVID has stressed us, but also allowed us to rise to the occasion and do what needed to be done for our patients and for the country," Nelson said.

And, he noted, the lab community is beginning to focus on the future with an eye on the immediate past.

"As we've gotten the enterprise healthy and gotten to a place where we've been able to come up with standard guidance, we're already in planning mode for the next pandemic - what worked, what didn't work - and we want to have those plans in place and ready to go at a moment's notice," Nelson said.

Manning is central to being ready for what could potentially come next.

"We need enough lab techs and enough lab officers to handle the workload," Nelson said. "If you don't have the people, you can't do the testing."

Another key element to readiness is the rapid adaptation of new technology, he said.

"From manning to training to the machines used for testing and making sure we have the correct personal protective equipment - any of these can be a limiting factor," said Nelson. "Now we have an idea of where we need to be and how rapidly we can go from zero to 200,000."

Nelson emphasized that, as simple as it may seem, without laboratories and lab personnel, there would be no way to identify issues and determine what actions need to be taken.

"That sample that a lab tech is generating is somebody's result, and that result means something to that patient," said Nelson. "That patient could be you, your mother, your brother, or your best friend, and you want assurances that that lab result is the highest quality result it can possibly be. That only happens when that lab tech is there and has the training, standards of care, processes, and equipment and supplies in order to do that testing."

You also may be interested in...

Critically ill COVID Patient Delivers Baby While on Heart-Lung Bypass

Article
1/11/2022
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hernandez and his wife, Ashley, take a family portrait with their six children. Ashley is BAMC’s first patient to give birth while on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation.

Hernandez, a Marine Corps spouse and mother of five, is BAMC’s first patient to give birth while on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation.

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Coronavirus

Development of WRAIR’s Pan-Coronavirus Vaccine Shows Promise

Article
12/28/2021
A vial of spike ferritin nanoparticle WRAIR's COVID-19 vaccine

Series of preclinical studies supports the Army’s pan-coronavirus vaccine development strategy

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Immunization Experts are Central to COVID-19 Vaccine Program

Article
12/20/2021
Medical director at Fort Riley, Kansas receives a COVID-19 vaccination In his left arm from a tech in personal protective equipment.

Immunization Health Division at forefront of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

Military Health System Marks 1-Year Anniversary for COVID Vaccinations

Article
12/14/2021
FEmale Marine gets COVID 19 vaccination in left  arm at Camp LeJeune in December 2020

More than 6.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered a year after first shots within MHS.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

MHS Reaches 6 Million Doses of Vaccine Against COVID

Article
11/10/2021
Airmen of the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, receive COVID-19 immunizations as a part of the federal mandate at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Missouri, Oct. 2, 2021. The 139th Medical Group oversees the operation. .

Military passes 6 million mark for COVID-19 shots administered across the Military Health System.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Information for Military Treatment Facility Directors

COVID 19 Vaccine Is Now Available for Children 5 to 11

Article
11/9/2021
5-year-old girl in mask reads a book by herself

COVID-19 vaccines for 5-11 year olds are ready now through MHS

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Pregnancy Health Alert: COVID-19 Vaccine is Strongly Recommended

Article
10/20/2021
Pregnant women gets the COVID-19 vaccine

Get vaccinated for COVID-19 if you’re pregnant or trying, DOD and CDC and advise.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Women's Health

More Than 95% of Active Duty Have Received COVID-19 Vaccine

Article
10/15/2021
Female hospital corpsman gives a COVID-19 vaccine injection to a sailor in her left arm

Service members continue to line up for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Information for Military Treatment Facility Directors

Mask Mouth Does Not Exist, Dentists Say

Article
10/6/2021
A bunch of children wearing face masks walk on a city street.

Mask mouth doesn’t exist, Internet chatter to the contrary, dentists say.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Booster Shots are Now Available – What You Need to Know

Article
9/30/2021
Containers of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Each vial contains six doses for vaccination against the COVID-19 virus.

Booster shots are now recommended for millions of people – but many others will have to wait for additional approvals.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Myths & facts about the vax - debunking common COVID-19 vaccine myths

Article
9/29/2021
Myths and facts about the vax

The COVID-19 vaccine has been mandated across the Department of Defense and despite its demonstrated effectiveness and safety, a host of myths have left some Airmen and Guardians hesitant to receive it. While social media posts and some news outlets may make it harder to keep up with what is fact or fiction, the science is clear … approved COVID-19 vaccines work.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

DODEA Schools Keeps On With In-Person Classes, and Fall Sports, Too

Article
9/23/2021
Kids playing football

DODEA schools are striving to continue in-person learning in the 2021-22 school year.

Recommended Content:

Children's Health | Coronavirus

The COVID-19 Pandemic: How Health Care Workers are Coping

Article
9/13/2021
a nurse helping a COVID-19 patient

For health care providers, experiencing the pandemic inside a hospital has brought

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Military Health Podcasts

Increased COVID Restrictions on the Pentagon Reservation

Article
9/8/2021
Military personnel wearing a face mask

Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases and positive test cases in the National Capital Region, the Pentagon Reservation will move to Health Protection Condition Bravo Plus (Bravo+)

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

As Fitness Tests Resume, Troops Seek Post-COVID Exercise Routines

Article
8/31/2021
Military personnel physically training

Keeping fit during pandemic proves hard for some.

Recommended Content:

Total Body Preventive Health and Total Force Fitness | Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Coronavirus
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 27

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.