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San Diego Navy Lab Key To Coronavirus Response

NHRC's Operational Infectious Disease Laboratory Supervisor Scott Vo preparin...

Credit: Defense of Department

Above: NHRC's Operational Infectious Disease Laboratory Supervisor Scott Vo preparing COVID-19 samples for testing.

Part of the lessons learned from the Navy’s handling of the coronavirus: testing took weeks to get into full swing.

The Center For Disease Control authorized the Naval Health Research Center on Point Loma to begin testing for the coronavirus Feb. 12. It would take another two weeks before military installations in Southern California began sending actual samples to be tested, said Chris Myers, NHRC director of infectious diseases.

“We do not normally receive patient samples from the hospital,” Meyers said. “We’re collecting them ourselves for surveillance. So we’re not normally, like the whole process for the hospital directly submitting samples to us and the results going into the medical records was a new process for both of us.”

It was part of an early learning curve, he said.

Reported by Steve Walsh

In the early days of the crisis, the CDC guidelines were also very restrictive when it came to who should be tested, which led to fewer people being tested initially, Meyers said.

“Specific travel to Wuhan, China or other limitations, or at least contact with someone who met the COVID definition,” he said. “And at the time there were no cases in San Diego so meeting that narrow case definition may have been problematic in the beginning.”

Once the samples arrived, the San Diego lab soon found their first positive case for COVID-19.

The CDC quickly authorized the San Diego-based Navy lab to be the first military lab to test for COVID-19, based in part on the role the lab played during the last pandemic. NHRC actually discovered the first cases of the 2009 swine flu, which were found in San Diego County.

The Pentagon has stopped releasing figures showing which ship or installation where there is a positive test for the virus. Meyers and other NHRC leaders would not say how many positive test cases there have been among the military in the region. The lab is processing 160 tests a day, mainly from Navy and Marine installations in Southern California and Arizona, as well as ships docked in San Diego.

So far, the number of cases peaked last month and is slowly falling. That could change anytime, Meyers said.

Listen to this story by Steve Walsh.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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