LANDSTUHL, Germany -- Since the COVID-19 outbreak in March, Public Health Command Europe has filled several mission critical roles, from providing guidance and expertise on how to contain, mitigate and move forward, to ensuring quarantine facilities are safe to use.
For the last two months, Public Health Command Europe’s laboratory sciences division has conducted COVID-19 surveillance testing, which will likely continue into the next year.
“Surveillance testing is conducted on people who are asymptomatic, which means the individual doesn’t show any of the symptoms,” explained Col. Jeremy Bearss, chief of PHCE’s laboratory sciences division.
Since May 15, PHCE has been performing COVID-19 surveillance testing for the Army, Air Force and Navy personnel throughout the U.S. European Command footprint, with additional support to U.S. Forces in U.S. Central Command.
Currently, several groups of individuals are being tested - a mandatory percentage of individuals who are stationed in the area, service members and civilians with their families who are PCSing to Europe, and service members on their way to a deployment or training. The most recent large-scale exercise LS supported was Defender 20 in Eastern Europe.
“Surveillance testing provides commanders and health care professionals information about the prevalence and infection rates of troops,” explained Bearss. “It allows senior leaders to make informed decisions about restriction of movement, deployment, and quarantine of U.S. Forces.”
PHCE can process approximately 2,000 samples per day by testing swabs to find out if they contain any COVID-19 virus, according to Bearss.
“We are currently the only laboratory in the Department of Defense performing surveillance testing,” said Bearss. “This allows the medical treatment facilities to focus their efforts solely on clinical testing of symptomatic people and their care.”
In the beginning of the outbreak, PHCE assisted Landstuhl Regional Medical Center with testing, but PHCE’s laboratory is better suited for a large volume of surveillance efforts.
PHCE was able to reprioritize its mission and trained Soldiers from other specialties, such as veterinarians and environmental health and engineering officers, to assist with the surveillance testing.
According to Bearss receiving the results of the COVID-19 samples is very time sensitive, therefore the Soldiers are working 24/7 to be able to achieve a turnaround time of 48 hours.
Since May, PHCE has tested more than 10,000 samples.
PHCE’s laboratory is an accredited full-service public health laboratory, which provides biological and chemical analytical services, such as testing for bacterial contamination in food and water or heavy metals, like lead, and pesticides in water, air or soil.
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