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NMCP unveils new COVID-19 testing system

A group of military health personnel, wearing masks, in front of a large machine with a red ribbon in front of it. Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP) Microbiology Department recently unveiled their new Panther system to help in the fight against the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and its operational impact. Members of NMCP's Laboratory joined Navy Capt. Lisa Mulligan, NMCP's commanding officer, and Navy Cmdr. Peter Carbone, NMCP's Laboratory department head (center), as they cut the ribbon marking the start of the use of the Panther system at NMCP. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dylan Kinee, NMC Portsmouth.)

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Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP) Microbiology Department recently unveiled their new Panther system to help in the fight against the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and its operational impact.

The Panther system is a best-in-class, fully automated, sample-to-result platform. Each Panther system can provide initial results in approximately four hours, and it is able process around 1,000 COVID-19 tests in a 24-hour period.

“With this new system, at the end of the day, we spend the same amount of time testing but with three times the output volume,” said Ruben Ayala, an NMCP microbiologist who worked on getting the Panther system to the medical center. “We can do an even better job taking care of all our patients in-house and get the results a lot faster.”

Located in the Tidewater region, NMCP is the primary medical center for the region that hosts the largest U.S. military concentration in the world. Due to the ongoing pandemic, operational commands in the region are required to get COVID-19 tests before being cleared to execute operations or perform exercises. Now, NMCP will be able to support large groups requiring COVID tests in a shorter period of time.

“Any operational unit that needs to be cleared pre-deployment can come in at, say, seven o’clock (a.m.), and they’ll be deployed that afternoon if everything is negative,” Ayala said. “It’s perfect for operational readiness in concerns with COVID-19.”

Once NMCP’s Microbiology Department received all the supplies and equipment, they rallied together and were able to complete assembly of the Panther system ahead of schedule.

“From the lowest rank to the highest rank, everyone was doing their part for the team,” Ayala said. “They were mission focused at all times. We had a lot of regulations that we had to fulfill and everyone was cooperating and willing to fulfill those regulations in about three weeks. Everyone was willing to go the extra mile to get this done.”

“Robust testing and contact tracing are the foundation of any effective virus containment plan,” said Navy Capt. Melissa Austin, NMCP’s executive officer. “The Panther provides us with high-throughput diagnostic testing capability that will enable us to better support both the operational forces and clinical care here in the hospital.”

“COVID-19 is currently the sole focus for this machine,” said Sean Ehrsam, an NMCP medical laboratory technician. “But when COVID-19 testing slows down, we can open up the machine to other types of testing.”

“I am so proud of the team effort from our laboratory, facilities, and logistic departments to get the platform installed, validated, and supplied in such a short time,” added Austin.

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