SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Help is coming in the near future to diagnose and combat COVID-19 quicker as Sheppard AFB is one of five bases in Air Education and Training Command selected to receive new test kits.
In addition to Sheppard, Lackland AFB, Texas; Luke AFB, Arizona; Holloman AFB, New Mexico; and Keesler AFB, Mississippi; will also receive the BioFire UEA test kits, which will knock down the turnaround time for results to potentially minutes instead of days, according to AETC.
Capt. Cedric Walters, 82nd Medical Group Laboratory Flight commander at Sheppard, said this is good news for the base.
“I am very excited to bring this technology to Sheppard AFB,” he said. “I understand the anxiety of having to wait up to 72 hours for a COVID-19 test result, so this new testing capability will be a great benefit to the quality of patient care that we give here at the 82nd Medical Group.”
The new kits will allow 82nd MDG providers to collect samples of symptomatic patients, test them at the clinic and have results within as little as an hour, a marked improvement from the procedures in place now.
Walters said the process in place now requires a patient exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to be screened and then seen by a medical provider, who will then order lab tests for strep throat, influenza and a panel of 17 other bacteria and viruses that cause respiratory issues. If those results come back negative, the sample is then sent to a Defense Department reference lab for COVID-19 testing.
It could take 72 hours or longer for the results to come back because of the increase in testing. Once the results are back, the provider notifies the patient and further care and protective measures are taken.
Col. Kevin McCal, 82nd MDG commander, said the new test kits will allow for quicker diagnosis of those with the disease and safeguard Airmen, families and communities by issuing proper isolation protocols as well as quarantine measures for those possibly exposed to that person. Another positive, he said, is the quick turnaround on the diagnosis could also result in a reduced number of people placed in quarantine status.
“The kits give us results faster to give us information to better protect Team Sheppard. In addition, it will give us information sooner to determine who goes into isolation or quarantine,” he said. “With negative results, it will significantly reduce the number of people in quarantine. It will give back days and people to the mission.”
As with the existing protocols, only those with COVID-19 symptoms who have already been cleared of other respiratory-related bacteria and viruses will be tested using the new kits.
Walters aid the new test kit will give provider a rapid diagnostic answer to the type of illness the patient has, whether it’s COVID-19 or another disease contributing to respiratory illness.
“The BioFire COVID-19 Test will allow us to collect and test a sample, all within the same day,” he said. “This gives the provider and Public Health crucial diagnostic information to make informed decisions regarding treatment; isolation; contact tracing; quarantining of roommates, classmates and instructors; and the safety of the base population.”
Walters said the test kits have been ordered, but it could take a few weeks for the game-changing test kits to arrive because of the demand across the country. He said when the kits do arrive, laboratory personnel will begin the process of validating and approving the kits.
People are reminded to continue to use strict hygiene and health guidance including washing hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds; cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, then throw away the tissue and wash hands; practice proper social distancing by keeping at least 6-feet distance from other people and avoid being in groups larger than 10 people; stay home if sick; stay away from people who are sick; and follow public health, local, state and national directives.
According to the BioFire website, the test kits were developed in collaboration with the DoD specifically to detect the causative agent of COVID-19. The technology will be made available to the public once DoD orders have been filled.