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Fairchild COVID19 Response: 92nd MDG Laboratory

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael Loalbo, 92nd Medical Group laboratory technician, prepares a training COVID-19 test on Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, May 28, 2020. Team Fairchild laboratory Airmen are working to find more efficient and quicker ways to conduct COVID-19 testing through these trainings. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kiaundra Miller)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael Loalbo, 92nd Medical Group laboratory technician, prepares a training COVID-19 test on Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, May 28, 2020. Team Fairchild laboratory Airmen are working to find more efficient and quicker ways to conduct COVID-19 testing through these trainings. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kiaundra Miller)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael Loalbo, 92nd Medical Group laboratory technician, tests a training sample of COVID-19 as on Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, May 28, 2020. This training is to give Airmen the certification needed to do COVID-19 tests, which use a new system that allows test results to come back quicker. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kiaundra Miller)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael Loalbo, 92nd Medical Group laboratory technician, tests a training sample of COVID-19 as on Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, May 28, 2020. This training is to give Airmen the certification needed to do COVID-19 tests, which use a new system that allows test results to come back quicker. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kiaundra Miller)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --

The 92nd Medical Group works tirelessly to ensure the safety of its patients and continues to be mission focused during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing high-quality care for retirees, Airmen, and their families.

Within the 92nd MDG, Laboratory Airmen have taken on the additional task of efficiently handling and managing COVID-19 tests while continuing to ensure Team Fairchild’s mission readiness.

“We’re tasked with assisting care providers in checking the health status of the base’s Airmen and dependents,” said Master Sgt. Carolyn Field, 92nd MDG diagnostic services flight chief. “We assist health providers by screening for dietary, hormonal, vaccination and environmental hazard concerns; physical fitness assessments, blood type, sexual health and much more. Our efforts help with over 70 percent of provider diagnoses to patients on and off base, helping them keep families healthy and Airmen deployable.”

The Air Force’s COVID-19 pandemic response necessitated a stop movement order for deployed service members, physical distancing, protective measures and increased testing demands. Despite these obstacles, laboratory Airmen continued to find ways to succeed and provide patients with the best care possible.

“There are people that have certain studies and lab tests that need to be done continuously,” said Airman 1st Class Nariah Thomas, 92nd MDG medical lab technician. “We’re working full days in split shifts. People rush in so they can get tested before we close at 11:30, but our day doesn’t stop then. We get the COVID-19 test kits from the Family Health providers at 11:30, so we’re processing those after the doors close and we go and help the pharmacy after our work is done too.”

Laboratory work is essential now more than ever, but the base lab wasn’t designed to handle the number of requests for the COVID-19 tests; in order for the lab to maintain its capabilities and incorporate the new workload, the COVID-19 tests are sent out to partner locations, which are equipped with necessary equipment to run them.

“BioFire is a sample analyzer machine used by the two (Madigan Army Medical Center & LABCorp) facilities that we send tests out to, as we currently aren’t processing COVID-19 tests in-house yet,” Field said. “However, Staff Sgt. Kathryn Hiles, acting as our interim lab officer, has done extensive research on new testing methods that are getting Air Force and U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, to ensure the tests we start processing in-house will be quick, safe, precise, and accurate.”

The laboratory team eagerly awaits official guidance as to how and when to begin processing tests in-house, even though it will mean more work for them at an already busy time, yet these Airmen remain committed to doing all they can to help out.

“We haven’t ran a patient sample yet, but the importance of running tests in-house is the timeliness of it,” Thomas said. “It’s different because with these [new] tests, we don’t have to wait for the whole shipping and receiving process, instead we are able to perform the tests here.”

The Pentagon’s stringent guidance on returning to pre-pandemic operational footing relies in-part to the work of Lab Airmen continuing to get everyone tested.

“In order to ensure our forces are healthy and stay that way, lab Airmen are needed to interpret, sort, send, receive and share testing results with doctors,” said Field. “We are improving our existing processes by the day and are looking to adopt proven new testing methods as they become available, aiming to return our forces to as-rapidly-as-possible meet Center for Disease Control and Pentagon guidelines to reopen Fairchild to pre-COVID ready status.”

All of the Airmen are in a kind of unprecedented situation, as we’ve never had a pandemic response before, so all of it is kind of uncharted territory for us...yet, everyone is still chipping in and coming in on the weekends to get the work done, Fields concluded.

Despite the unfamiliarity in working during a pandemic and the tireless efforts of the 92nd MDG laboratory Airmen, it is still important, now more than ever, to remain physical distanced and to remain socially connected with loved ones.

For further information regarding your military medical benefits, or on additional guidance regarding how to remain healthy and safe during this pandemic, contact your medical provider or refer to the Fairchild AFB COVID-19 website here: https://www.fairchild.af.mil/coronavirus/