Connecticut National Guard provides mobile COVID-19 testing lab

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Steven Tucker
  • 103rd Airlift Wing

The Connecticut National Guard has turned a vehicle designed to test for environmental chemical, biological, and radiological contamination into a mobile clinical laboratory to expand the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 testing capacity.

The 14th Civil Support Team brought its analytical laboratory system to Charter Oak Family Health Center on April 24, 2020 for the first of what the Guard and Connecticut Department of Public Health plans to be many sites the team will visit to conduct testing.

“The initial intention for this process is to be able to take the testing to
areas where individuals have no means to be able to go and get tested,” said Dr. Jafar Razeq, Connecticut Department of Public Health state laboratory director. “So we thought that by utilizing this mobile unit, we will have trained individuals moving around the state going into areas where we can test individuals and have results within a very short period of time.”

This presents a new mission for the civil support team, who primarily uses the mobile laboratory for environmental samples, but is ready to provide this expanded capability.

“The process was conceptualizing the mission, establishing limiting factors and capabilities, coming up with an agreement for operation, training our personnel, and at this point it’s logistics and ensuring we can meet the demand the state has,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Robert Burgess, 14th Civil Support Team commander.

Health care workers from local clinics like Charter Oak conduct the swab inside their own building and deliver the sample to the vehicle, which contains the lab space in the back. This quick transfer saves time compared to sending the sample to the state lab in Rocky Hill.

Working together, the Department of Public Health and civil support team hope to test 70 to 80 patients per day seven days per week.

“Time is of the essence in this unprecedented public health emergency,” said Razeq. “Test results are needed as soon as possible from the time the patient is tested. So we hope that this will be a successful program that other states can look at and see if they can implement it in their state.”

Every state's civil support team has at least one analytical laboratory system to test environmental samples and some states, depending on their population, have two, said Burgess.

In Connecticut, the plan was implemented quickly.

“We were contacted about a week and a half ago with the concept and we worked through the processes and got the approvals to start the operation today under the direction of the lab director and Connecticut Department of Public Health,” said Burgess. “This is what the civil support team is here for—providing support to our federal, state, and local officials. We’re honored to be a part of it.”

The Connecticut Department of Public Health is happy to have the support of the National Guard in carrying out this mission, said Razeq.

“I’m very impressed,” said Razeq. “We went from the time the first communication happened to actually doing testing in less than two weeks. That’s remarkable and I could not ask for a better collaboration.”