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Air Force lab testing samples of COVID-19

Between 5,000 and 8,000 blood serum, fecal, urine, viral and respiratory samples arrive six days a week from U.S. Air Force hospitals and clinics worldwide, as well as some other Department of Defense facilities, for analysis at the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the "Epi Lab" at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.The lab is a Department of Defense reference laboratory offering clinical diagnostic, public health, and force health screening and testing. (U.S. Air Force photo/J.M. Eddins Jr.)

Between 5,000 and 8,000 blood serum, fecal, urine, viral and respiratory samples arrive six days a week from U.S. Air Force hospitals and clinics worldwide, as well as some other Department of Defense facilities, for analysis at the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the "Epi Lab" at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.The lab is a Department of Defense reference laboratory offering clinical diagnostic, public health, and force health screening and testing. (U.S. Air Force photo/J.M. Eddins Jr.)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s epidemiology laboratory is the Air Force’s sole clinical reference laboratory, and as such, is testing and processing samples of COVID-19 sent from military treatment facilities around the world.

The lab was authorized by the Defense Health Agency to test samples from Department of Defense beneficiaries for COVID-19 in early March, and received its test kit from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shortly after.

“The USAFSAM Epi Lab is currently working long hours, testing and processing samples of COVID-19 that are coming in from MTFs globally,” said Col. Theresa Goodman, USAFSAM commander. “If you ask anyone on this team how they’re doing, they’ll tell you they’re fine--that they’re just doing their jobs. But I couldn’t be more proud of them right now -- their selfless and tireless dedication to this mission. COVID-19 testing is our primary mission right now and the members of the Epi Lab are my front line to this fight.”

USAFSAM's epidemiology laboratory, nested in the Air Force Research Laboratory's 711th Human Performance Wing, has a long history of testing and identifying various infectious respiratory diseases, including those that occur on a regular basis like influenza, and the ones similar to COVID-19 that become a public health issue, spreading globally. Because of this, the team works closely with the CDC and other agencies.

“We have been in operation for approximately 30 years, and therefore involved with many other infectious disease outbreaks, for example SARS,” said Col. Dana Dane, USAFSAM Public Health Department chair.

This laboratory is only authorized to test samples coming in from DOD beneficiaries, but those outside this demographic have the support of their state public health departments for testing purposes. USAFSAM is working closely with public health professionals across the DOD, as well as with the CDC as the situation evolves. Per CDC guidelines, reference laboratories are no longer required to submit samples to the CDC for further testing and final confirmation. If the tests do show as positive, the USAFSAM Epi Lab marks the sample “confirmed positive.”

USAFSAM's laboratory is not participating in vaccine development. It also is not the type of laboratory where people go to get blood drawn, nasal swabs, etc., like a clinic at a doctor’s office or in a hospital. USAFSAM’s epidemiology reference lab is set up to receive these samples from clinics at military treatment facilities. The USAFSAM lab runs the tests on those samples and logs the data.

"We're all sensitive to those around the world who are grieving losses due to this awful virus as well as to others who are just downright scared. Our hearts go out to you,” said Goodman. “But just know that our epidemiology laboratory here in USAFSAM is waiting at the door 24/7 for any and all samples that come in from our DOD family.

Goodman also stated that the team is lockstep with public health personnel around the world as well as with our partners at the CDC.

“We truly are all in this together,” she said. “Fighting this virus will take all of us doing our part--from those staying at home washing their hands a little more often and checking on neighbors to USAFSAM’s public health team testing samples and getting the data where it needs to go.”