Laboratories Working Above and Beyond During the Pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented changes in healthcare resources, both on the frontline and behind the scenes.
If you think about it, Covid-19 has uniquely been one of the most lab-centric pandemics in history. If you had Covid, if someone you knew had Covid, if someone you knew died from Covid, if you were sick and didn’t have Covid, if you stayed home due to a Covid exposure, if your school couldn’t open due to Covid cases, all these scenarios revolve around laboratory testing for the Coronavirus. From detecting to tracing to treating and monitoring, the entire course of this Covid pandemic has relied heavily on laboratory testing and on the people performing these important diagnostic tests.
Licensed High Complexity Lab at the Urgency Room
Since Covid-19 was first declared a pandemic in March of 2020, the Urgency Room Laboratories have performed over 31,000 rapid molecular tests for the virus. Instruments already in-use at the Urgency Rooms had received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA for Covid testing in late March 2020 and started reagent production in early April. The Urgency Room laboratories are licensed high complexity labs with the most skilled lab scientists and technicians, who were able to validate the test reagents, train staff, write procedures, build computer integrations, and implement the Covid-19 test for our patients within days of tests being made available to us.
Behind the Scenes in the Laboratory
Who are the people that perform these tests when you are sick? Often, they are not on the frontlines and perhaps you will never see them. You might see staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep everyone safe when collecting your sample, then your sample goes behind the scenes! Your seemingly simple swab sample is brought to the lab where these lab staff, under the same PPE precautions to protect themselves, will perform a molecular test for Covid-19. The lab scientist or technician will take the swab containing cells from the lining of the respiratory tract (where the Covid-19 virus lives and replicates if present) and process it to enhance and amplify any viral RNA/DNA particles present, in a way that makes the test extremely sensitive at detecting positives. The laboratory and testing instruments are meticulously maintained to be clean of RNA particles, and biohazardous or potentially infectious samples are disposed of following strict protocols. The laboratorians perform required quality control on the test reagents, they report results into a digital medical record system, and Covid results are continuously monitored for information that contributes to epidemiologic monitoring.
Our Dedicated Laboratory Staff
Laboratorians prepare their labs for patient testing long before samples arrive and are often there until after the doors are closed performing the more time consuming or abnormal lab tests. It is estimated that 75% of ALL medical diagnoses depend on lab testing and results! Lab staff typically have either a 2 year degree (lab technician) or a 4 year degree (lab scientist), and go through fulltime clinical training for months to a year to qualify for their degree. Once completed, they then take a national board of certification exam to become certified laboratorians. Even before the pandemic, laboratory staffing needs were predicted to increase by 22% through 2022 due to increased demand and retirement vacancies, while at the same time many laboratory degree programs closed due to limited clinical training sites. For these reasons, a biannual survey by ASCP (American Society of Clinical Pathology, which certifies lab personnel) published in 2019 showed increasing vacancy rates and decreasing graduation rates, causing the field to be especially short staffed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The lab staff that we have at the Urgency Room have been incredibly dedicated and have worked above and beyond during this unprecedented need for both Covid testing and routine testing; they showed up proudly when needed so that our patients got the best care and diagnostics possible. Thank you to all the lab staff during this MLPW (Medical Laboratory Professionals Week) 2021! #Lab4Life