ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Members of the Army Public Health Center COVID-19 Pooled Surveillance Implementation Team from the Directorate of Laboratory Sciences were presented with the Third Quarter Fiscal Year 2021 Army Medicine Wolf Pack Award in a virtual ceremony held here Dec. 7.
The Wolf Pack Award was created by the 43rd Army Surgeon General and the 4th Chief of the Army Medical Department Civilian Corps to recognize exceptional teamwork by an integrated group of Army Medicine civilian and military team members who have demonstrated excellence in support of the Army Medicine mission. Quarterly winners automatically compete for the annual Wolf Pack of the Year award.
The Wolf Pack Award citation recognized the APHC COVID-19 Pooled Surveillance Implementation Team, which is comprised of 41 Army active-duty service members and Department of the Army civilians, for their efforts in rapidly implementing and expanding the pooled surveillance testing capability of military personnel for SARS-CoV-2 at the APHC labs using accredited methods in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and conserving the limited clinical testing reagents available.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a high demand for SARS-CoV-2 testing, leading to global supply shortages of diagnostic test kits and reagents. APHC’s Directorate of Laboratory Sciences, a member of the Army Public Health Laboratory Enterprise, established SARS-CoV-2 pooled surveillance testing locally to identify asymptomatic individuals in military communities and to help isolate potentially infectious individuals to reduce further transmission and, reduce the clinical testing burden on Army laboratories.
“The establishment of the COVID-19 pooled surveillance testing capabilities of asymptomatic personnel has been essential to allowing FORSCOM units to resume training with safety measures,” said Richard Beauchemin, U.S. Army Medical Command chief of staff, and chief of the AMEDD Civilian Corps. “This program has served as a model for other Army regional public health laboratories, and the innovative implementation has received praise from the CDC for its utilization of pooled samples to monitor the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2.”
Beauchemin said the expertise of the APHC COVID-19 surveillance teams with critical support from APHC’s logistics and facilities teams allowed them to both create the capability to assess for SARS-CoV-2 and to expand the capacity of the lab to handle approximately 1,000 samples per day. Since July 28, 2020, the COVID-19 team of dedicated scientists and Soldiers have analyzed over 22,381 samples in 2,425 pools using Research Use Only materials in compliance with ISO 17025 standards. APHC’s efforts have helped save more than 18,408 clinical COVID-19 tests.
“This has been critical to the Army’s COVID-19 response, which was limited by the lack of diagnostic tests and reagents,” said Beauchemin. “This work involved a large amount of analytical, logistical, and technical coordination by the whole team.”
“This Wolfpack award is a great opportunity to showcase how critical it is for all departments of a unit to work together to accomplish a goal,” said Lt. Col. Laura L. McGhee, the former APHC laboratory manager who accepted the award on behalf of the lab surveillance team. “The scientists might have been the tip of the spear in COVID 19 pooled surveillance within the Army but would fail without the supporting logistical, quality, and safety functions. Also at APHC, the biological testing efforts and personnel were limited so the entire laboratory provided personnel, testing expertise, and operational experience to establish the surveillance program while continuing our normal testing mission.”
According to the Wolfpack citation, the team with their expertise in molecular biology, biosafety, regulatory affairs, and operational activities rapidly established a vision for the surveillance activities at APHC and used their skills to shape and implement that vision to support the COVID-19 surveillance needs of the U.S. Army. The Team’s efforts mitigated the spread of disease and helped sustain the health of the Force.
“It is great to see an entire team be recognized for such hard work and high profile assignment,” said McGhee. “We are proud to have help preserve the fighting force during this pandemic by allowing our Soldiers to train safely.”
The Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury and disability of Soldiers, military retirees, their families, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through population-based monitoring, investigations, and technical consultations.