FORT LEE, Va. – Kenner Army Health Clinic will soon enhance its COVID-19 testing capability. The military treatment facility has received two new systems that, when fully operational, can yield novel coronavirus detection results in about an hour. The number of tests that can be completed, however, is dependent upon the availability of ancillary supplies, noted Capt. Scott Miller, chief of Clinical Laboratory Services.
“To achieve the stated turnaround time, we would have to have everything in a perfect scenario,” Miller said. “That means we have the equipment fully operational, and the supplies and test kits on hand. In that scenario, from start to finish, if a doctor brings in a COVID patient specimen, it’s going to take about an hour from collection to test result time.”
A rapid results test can help medical personnel make more informed decisions during critical times, according to experts. At the beginning of testing in March, commercial lab turnaround times could take up to a week, but it has improved in some instances to one or two days, which is still too long for detecting a disease that can spread quickly through human contact.
Miller reported that Kenner should receive the ancillary supplies needed for testing this week, however, the quantities are likely to be restricted due to countrywide backlogs. “We’ll have enough for maybe 100 tests initially,” the captain said, “but we have on order supplies for up to 350 tests.”
It is not clear when the additional supplies will arrive, Miller pointed out.
Prior to the arrival of the machines, Kenner, like many smaller facilities, had no testing capability for COVID-19.
“We had to send samples out to LabCorp – our commercial reference laboratory – and we used DOD assets such as Womack Army Medical Center (at Fort Bragg, N.C.) for emergency testing.”
When fully operational, Kenner will have the capability to conduct roughly 14-16 tests a day with the new machines, Miller said “Testing doesn’t occur until people actually show symptoms,” he emphasized, “so, on a daily basis right now for those showing symptoms … we average at most 10-15 tests that we’re shipping out for analysis.”
To operate the new machines, Kenner personnel are undergoing the last phases of training and assessment, said Jean Ragland, Clinical Laboratory Services supervisor. Part of the challenge for her and a few others, she said, was overcoming the concern about exposure, but the instructional process has given her confidence that it is safe.
“There was some fear behind it,” she said, “but we had to move beyond that. … We’re ready to take this on and move forward to help people get better.”
KAHC, not an advanced testing facility, received the machines March 27 as a result of government efforts to expand testing.