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Air Force lab continues to support DoD’s testing efforts

Technician in a lab Air Force Airman 1st Class Alexandria Johnson, 81st Diagnostic and Therapeutics Squadron lab technician, prepares a COVID-19 sample for testing inside the Keesler Medical Center at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, July 1, 2020. The Microbiology Department has been working to get fast, efficient, and accurate COVID test results to their patients.

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Coronavirus

The 81st Medical Group has been a forerunner in the fight against COVID-19 on the Gulf Coast. The Microbiology Department has been testing all of the COVID samples for Keesler Medical Center’s beneficiaries.

“COVID has increased our workload tremendously,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephanie Taitano, 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron medical lab technician. “There have been days where we tested over 100 specimens to get results out in a timely manner.”

Keesler Medical Center located at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi is one of the few hospitals across the Air Force to have the rapid platform, which makes it possible for lab technicians to get COVID test results in approximately 45 minutes. Before the rapid platform became available, patients would have to wait days to see test results.

“The 81st Logistics Readiness Squadron has been very good about getting us our supplies,” said Taitano. “We’re testing a lot of patients and in order to keep supporting our community, we rely on other agencies to get us the required items we need to test effectively.”

The department’s fast, efficient and accurate testing helps other KMC functions run smoothly, such as the Drive Up COVID Clinic that was created when the COVID-19 pandemic started.

“The microbiology unit is amazing,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Jill Cherry, 81st Dental Squadron general dentist. “They have been working seamlessly with the DUCC to turn patient results around very quickly. Even when we task them with a heavy workload, they still get us those results back.”

As the world continues to navigate through this pandemic, the KMC’s microbiology department continues to search for and find better ways to test for COVID. The department has been in close encounters with the life-threatening virus for months.

“We’re fighting against an invisible enemy,” said Taitano. “It’s constant vigilance, but our motivation lies in us knowing that the work we do affects the lives of so many people.”

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Genetic sequence data for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes #COVID19, plays a vital role in force health protection efforts within the DoD. To jumpstart sequencing efforts, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch's Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response applied a collaborative approach to sequencing capabilities. Resulting sequence data will provide critical information about transmission patterns, track diagnostic effectiveness, and guide the development and evaluation of medical countermeasures.

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