Lab Matters Spring 2020 - Page 5

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER’S MESSAGE Public Health Laboratories: At the Vanguard of COVID-19 Response A mere six months ago who could have imagined that public health laboratories would be at the center of the US response to a global pandemic? Yet here we are in 2020 with testing for SARS-CoV-2 leading the news day after day. Public health leaders, who have tended to view labs as factories for disease data, have had to focus on testing as never before. They’ve even picked up “lab speak,” whipping out terms like “false positive” and “viral transport media” as though these words had always been part of their vernacular. As we all know, the initial CDC EUA assay stumbled out of the gate. The faulty EUA assay left member labs, who understood the ramifications of delay, in limbo for weeks. They clamored for federal approval to develop their own tests, and APHL spoke up forcefully on their behalf. A few days later, the regulations changed: testing could begin for any lab with the ability to bring up the test. Then came the chaos of launching COVID testing at all public health laboratories at the same time. APHL’s Infectious Disease and Informatics staff responded to hundreds of messages from member labs requesting technical assistance. Fortunately, the Informatics team had already created the messaging format for COVID-19 reporting. Messages would travel directly to CDC via the PHLIP feed. We placed a big checkmark next to “reporting” on our “To Do Now!” list. However, we could not sit back for a second. Shortages of reagents, extraction kits, viral transport media and swabs occurred nationwide. Shortages at some labs were so severe that they would be forced to halt testing if supplies were not secured by the next day. As late as early to mid-May, almost one-third of public health labs did not have adequate supplies for the next week’s testing. Notwithstanding, there have been some bright spots in this response. The pandemic has placed APHL and its members under the spotlight as never before. We have received calls from all the major news media, from NPR and the New York Times to John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. In interviews, we’ve been able to explain testing fundamentals (RT-PCR is not like a home pregnancy test) and manage public expectations (testing cannot be done at a snap of the fingers). What’s more, we have shared this information with a huge audience. Our potential reach has been measured at 18 billion. Under its spotlight, major companies have found APHL and sought out the association for advice and support. Apple and Google wanted to discuss their new software tool that makes it easier for jurisdictions to release coronavirus contact-tracing apps that protect users’ privacy. Amazon wanted to gauge our interest in its new COVID-19 supply store for first responders. The store offers responders hundreds of supplies at cost. Last, but certainly not least, APHL has been active on the Hill advocating for public health laboratory response funding. Labs will (or have) receive support under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and the FY 2021 federal budget, which provides funding for public health laboratory data systems. And APHL will continue to push for resources and protections for those serving at the lab bench. I would like to thank all our members who have demonstrated remarkable strength, determination and resiliency in this testing marathon. In my 20 years at APHL, I have never admired you more. A special thanks to the deBeaumont Foundation and the CDC Foundation for their kind gifts of financial support to APHL. I also want to thank our federal partners at CDC, FDA, and HHS and those outside the government, notably the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, National Association of County and City Health Officials, and many more organizations for their support during a challenging time. Lastly, a very special thanks to the fantastic APHL staff who have all come together in this crisis to do all we can to support our members. n I would like to thank all our members who have demonstrated remarkable strength, determination and resiliency in this testing marathon. In my 20 years at APHL, I have never admired you more. Scott Becker, MS PublicHealthLabs @APHL APHL.org Spring 2020 LAB MATTERS 3