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78th MDG laboratory performs in-house COVID-19 tests

Photo shows woman in hospital gown and mask working on a large laboratory machine.

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – Tech Sgt. Joan Johnson, 78th Medical Group Clinical Laboratory noncommissioned officer-in-charge, prepares patient samples for COVID-19 testing at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, May 19, 2020. The laboratory activated their in-house COVID-19 molecular testing capabilities May 7, becoming the first Air Force Sustainment Center clinic to offer in-house COVID-19 testing. (courtesy photo)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

The 78th Medical Group Clinical Laboratory at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, activated their in-house COVID-19 molecular testing capabilities May 7, becoming the first Air Force Sustainment Center clinic to offer in-house COVID-19 testing.

The decision to test a patient is made by their Primary Care Manager based on symptoms, potential for community transmission and risk of exposure among other factors.

With this capability, Robins’ lab technicians are able to receive results within one hour – far faster than the multi-day process of sending samples to Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, for testing.

These same-day results are providing patients with greater peace of mind while also allowing for accelerated contact tracing for those that test positive in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The laboratory is utilizing what is known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR, to accurately confirm a positive or negative result.

Maj. Chastity Howard, the 78th MDG Laboratory Flight commander, explained the process of the test.

“The equipment reads your sample like a book,” she said. “It extracts your DNA like pages, and then makes copies of a specific page with viral DNA targets to identity if the virus is present.”

Due to the molecular level accuracy of the test, there is no need for additional confirmation testing. This enhances the efficiency of 78th MDG operations in their efforts to care for its beneficiaries who continue to support the mission here at Robins.

“We prepare and train our whole career for a situation like this, but you never really expect it,” said Master Sgt. Kimberly Severyn, 78th MDG Laboratory noncommissioned officer-in-charge. “The most important thing here is safety.  We have the personal protective equipment and we know very well what we should and shouldn’t be doing.” 

Air Force medical lab technicians undergo 13 months of technical training to become proficient in clinical laboratory tests used to determine the patient’s health, diagnosis and treatment. This includes multiple areas of study and training from microbiology to urinalysis.

“I’m proud of our Warrior Medics, continuing to provide top-notch care in an ever-changing environment,” said Col. Maureen Farrell, 78th MDG commander. “Their selfless and tireless dedication is vital to the mission and will enable Robins Air Force Base to return to full capacity.”

Additional information on how the 78th MDG is working to better care for its patients can be found on the 78th MDG Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/78MDG.

For more information on Robins’ operations regarding COVID-19, visit the Robins COVID-19 webpage at https://www.robins.af.mil/coronavirus or the Robins Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/RobinsPublicsAffairs.