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Defending the Homeland: COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing Clinic opens at NMRTC Bremerton

Soldier getting a nasal swab test for COVID-19 Navy Machinist Mate (Auxiliary) 1st Class Sean Riebel, assigned to Trident Refit Facility, Bangor, was the first service member to take part in the inaugural COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing (CAT) Clinic at Naval Hospital Bremerton/Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NHB/NMRTC) Bremerton.

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For Navy Machinist Mate (Auxiliary) 1st Class Sean Riebel, there was a sense of relief being able to get tested for COVID-19.

Riebel was one of 13 Sailors from Trident Refit Facility, Bangor who took part in the inaugural COVID-19 Asymptomatic Testing (CAT) Clinic in early July, at Naval Hospital/Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NHB/NMRTC) Bremerton.

“I’m glad people like me can be seen. Just my being here, this is going to help flatten the curve. We’ve been following guidance since March. Being able to come here is a small price to pay for added peace of mind,” said Riebel, the initial participant of the CAT Clinic testing.

The CAT clinic saw 21 eligible patients the first day, each representing the growing requirement to perform sentinel surveillance testing (SST) for commands in the Pacific Northwest area of operation.

The premise of the clinic is to test asymptomatic service members sent from their respective command, pre-operative surgical patients and those deemed necessary for traveling purposes.

“There’s been a lot of coordination and hard work to make our CAT Clinic ready for prime time. We’ve made a few last minute adjustments to smooth out the flow and we’re ready to go.  The clinic will allow us to maintain the Urgent Care Clinic for what it’s designed to do, which is treat those sick and in need,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mia Jin, CAT Clinic coordinator and public health emergency officer.

There are populations with an increased risk of infection and subsequent transmission that have been recommended to be tested, such as health care workers, teams who frequently visit a variety of command, security personnel at entry control points, child development center workers, galley, learning centers, school house and Fleet activity center employees, operational unit populations and high density office staff members.

According to Navy Cmdr. Robert Uniszkiewicz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton COVID-19 lead and public health emergency officer, standing up the CAT clinic will assist in identifying asymptomatic COVID-positive individuals and assist the continual effort to stop the spread of the pandemic.

“Surveillance testing has provided another layer of confidence that our units preparing to deploy are both ready and safe to do so. It has been a tri-service effort to meet the demands for supply, transport and tracking in order to preserve (COVID-free) ‘bubbles’ around units before deployment, during deployment and after deployment when they return,” explained Uniszkiewicz.

The bottom line, attests Uniszkiewicz, is that CAT clinic testing can uncover asymptomatic COVID-19 positive individuals who could unwittingly spread the virus, as well as help reinforce NHB/NMRTC Bremerton’s public health mitigation strategy.

“This is a Fleet priority that we’ve flexed to make happen. This is our duty and will be as long as we’re responding to COVID-19,” added Navy Cmdr. Michael Grande, NMRTC Bremerton interim executive officer.

The clinic is part of Navy Medicine’s – and NHB/NMRTC Bremerton’s – expanded effort to protect forces by testing asymptomatic populations to break the chain of disease transmission.

Yet despite the crucial, time-sensitive role that the new CAT clinic provides, it is not a ready solution or end-all remedy in dealing with COVID-19.

“Testing is not as important as physical distancing, wearing facial coverings and proper hygiene practices. However, with these measures in place, large scale surveillance testing has provided another layer of confidence that our units preparing to deploy are both ready and safe to do so,” said Uniszkiewicz.

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