Lab Matters Spring 2020 - Page 4

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE In the Time of COVID-19, We Persevere Public health laboratory staff have displayed remarkable drive, dedication and resourcefulness in meeting the challenges posed by this viral foe and have shown a willingness to do whatever it takes to get tests done.” Grace Kubin, PhD When I wrote my last column in late January, we were preparing to test for SARS-CoV-2 as we awaited the release of the CDC EUA assay. That time seems far distant from our current reality. Was there really life before COVID-19? My COVID-19 workday routine begins with a two-floor descent into a nuclear-era bunker that serves as Texas’ emergency control center. I can’t say that I’m a fan of my subterranean workplace, but my daily stair workout gives me a minute or two to think, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how impressed I am with my colleagues at public health laboratories. Public health laboratory staff have displayed remarkable drive, dedication and resourcefulness in meeting the challenges posed by this viral foe and have shown a willingness to do whatever it takes to get tests done, whether that means working seven days a week or bartering with another state for viral transport media. For ingenuity and sheer grit, public health laboratory professionals cannot be beat. At our laboratory, I see these qualities at close range. For example, early in the outbreak when we were using the CDC EUA assay and reagents for that test were scarce, Dr. Rachel Lee came into my office and announced, “We have an opportunity to implement a test that does not use any of the reagents in the CDC EUA assay.” Thanks to her, we switched to the new test, which proved both specific and sensitive. Then, to make sure that no CDC test kits sat on a shelf unused, we sent our remaining kits to other Texas public health lab partners, which were still running the CDC EUA assay. Staff also have to adapt to new schedules and assignments. When we brought up a rapid extraction platform, it increased our test output, but also made social distancing within the laboratory more difficult. No matter how you organize your workflow, staff need access to instruments to do their work. We decided to go to an extended day schedule to ensure that only one person was at a biosafety cabinet at any time, and, since we are fortunate to have a large facility, we expanded COVID testing into other areas of the laboratory. This was feasible since testing volume in other departments has declined during the pandemic, and this decline allowed us to reassign microbiologists from these departments to COVID testing. So many others have stepped up to help in this response. Hats off to all of the public health laboratory directors who have come together in an unprecedented way to assist one another. A single post on ColLaborate brings rapid answers distilled from years of experience. And a big Texas shout out to our state’s public health partner laboratories for their hard work and support. Thanks also to an unusually diverse group of new partners. Dell, for example, helped us to analyze our supply sourcing operation to improve the process. Such partnerships hold promise for future collaboration. Of course, I cannot forget APHL, which deserves major kudos for its ability to bring technical and human resources to the table to get our issues addressed. Because of APHL, we have been able to speak directly with key decision makers who can make a difference in resolving the challenges we face. APHL staff have been on top of every issue, advocating for our interests and keeping us apprised of developments as they occur. Finally, I would like to thank Joanne Bartkus for her contributions as APHL president, board and committee member and as director of Minnesota’s state laboratory. We will all miss her insights and humor. I wish our incoming president, Bill Whitmar, all the best and an optimism for a COVID-less future. Let us hope that the effects of the pandemic will generate opportunities that will benefit APHL members. n 2 LAB MATTERS Spring 2020 PublicHealthLabs @APHL APHL.org