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Home : News
NEWS | April 22, 2020

W.Va. Guard has first DoD-approved mobile COVID-19 test lab

By Master Sgt. De-Juan Haley West Virginia National Guard

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) is the first National Guard unit approved by the Department of Defense to provide mobile testing for the coronavirus.

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, said the requirements were extensive.

Fabian holds degrees in applied and environmental microbiology, genetics and developmental biology, and is 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 said.

The manual implements policy, assigns responsibilities and provides standards and procedures for managing the CLIP. It states the minimal conditions all laboratories must meet to be certified to perform testing on human specimens under the CLIP.

It took about one week from the initial phone call to approval from the Defense Department. The mobile labs became operational April 17.

Once the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) alerts the WVNG that a rapid testing response is needed, one of the two mobile units will deploy within 45 minutes. The Morgantown testing lab will cover both panhandles and every site in the northern part of the state. The mobile lab based in Charleston 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 military experience working on Civil Support Teams (CST) as a backup analytical lab suit operator and civil experience as a chemical lab technician. If there is an overload of cases, both teams will react to the event.

“Once we arrive on-site, there’s about a 60-minute setup period in which we calibrate the machine,” Fabian said. “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. A positive result takes only 5 minutes, while a negative result is returned in 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.