MORGANTOWN, W.Va. —
The West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) recently became the first National Guard unit approved by the Department of Defense to provide mobile testing for the novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
The WVNG established two DoD-approved COVID-19 mobile testing laboratories through the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Program (CLIP), which will be primarily stationed in Charleston and Morgantown.
West Virginia Army National Guard 1st Lt. Samantha Fabian, the program director who leads the mobile laboratories, has been an instrumental part of establishing the mobile testing labs for the Guard and said that the requirements were extensive.
Fabian currently holds degrees in applied and environmental microbiology, genetics and developmental biology, and in the process of obtaining her Ph.D. in genetics and developmental biology from West Virginia University.
Because of her undergraduate and graduate studies, Fabian possessed the knowledge, background and experience to serve as program director, a vital first step in establishing the mobile lab.
“We worked with the Defense Health Agency, which falls under the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense Health Affairs, and then went through the necessary steps outlined in Department of Defense Manual 6440.02 to submit a proposal," she explained.
DODM 6440.02 is the DoD manual that implements policy, assigns responsibilities, and provides for standards and procedures for managing the CLIP. Additionally, it states the minimal conditions that all laboratories must meet to be certified to perform testing on human specimens under the CLIP.
The proposal included standard of practices, ensuring that qualified personnel are conducting the test and that the proper paperwork is accomplished.
It took about one week from the initial phone call to approval from the Defense Department under CLIP.
The process of deploying the mobile testing units starts at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), who will alert the WVNG for the need of a rapid testing response. From there, the WVNG will alert one of two mobile units, which will deploy within 45 minutes of receipt of notification. The Morgantown testing lab will cover both panhandles and every site in the northern part of the state. At the same time, the Charleston location will be responsible for Central and Southern West Virginia.
In addition to being the director of the program, Fabian will lead the northern response, while Maj. Brian Ellis, WVNG deputy G-1, will lead the southern response. Ellis has a combination of civilian and military experience working on Civil Support Teams (CST) as a backup analytical lab suit operator and as a chemical lab technician for nearly 10 years at chemical facility in West Virginia. If there is an overload of cases, both teams will react to the event.
The process of setting up once the lab arrives on site is involves a short setup of the equipment.
"Once we arrive on-site, there's about a 60-minute setup period in which we calibrate the machine," she explained. "Once we complete calibration, then our lab is certified and ready for operation."
The mobile testing sites will use the Abbott ID NOW analyzer and testing kits, which were given to the WVNG by the State of West Virginia.
The Abbott testing kit qualitatively detects the presence of COVID-19 RNA in samples using an isothermal nucleic acid amplification technology. It amplifies the distinct targeted RNA at a constant temperature, followed by binding to fluorescently labeled DNA probes that generate light. The instrument detects the level of fluorescence, which determines if a sample is positive or negative. All of this occurs within around 13 minutes, with positive results only taking 5 minutes for detection and the negative results taking 13 minutes.
One analyzer can test over 30 samples in eight hours. Due to this limitation, it is best for rapid testing where individuals and hot spots need fast results.
“I am extremely proud and impressed each day by the ingenuity and innovation that our Soldiers and Airmen display, especially in developing new ways to support the State’s efforts to battle COVID-19,” said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the WVNG.
The WVNG mobile lab intends to act as an expedient diagnostic tool to determine the presence of COVID-19 on-site at high risk or outbreak situations.
The mobile lab became operational April 17, 2020.