CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait –
On the battlefield, a few seconds can be the difference between someone living or someone dying. In the war on COVID-19, time can be an enemy or a friend, as well. The time spent waiting on results is time the virus can quickly spread to other individuals. Military personnel at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, recently acquired a new weapon in their arsenal.
“It doesn’t take long to collect a sample at all,” said Army Sgt. Christopher Garrett, a medical laboratory specialist from Portsmouth, Virginia, with the 411th Hospital Center. “Once that sample is processed, I get a result in about 51 minutes flat for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’”
The quicker results at the camp were thanks to the addition of a GeneXpert system. The troop medical center on the base began using the system Monday, July 27.
The system checks for the RNA (ribonucleic acid) that makes up COVID-19, stated Garrett.
He continued, “If it detects 200 or more matches, it’s going to call it, which is actually very sensitive.”
At the start of the outbreak earlier this year, smaller bases like Camp Buehring had to wait up to two weeks to get results back from Germany. As time progressed, larger bases obtained the ability to test, and the waiting time for small bases shortened to approximately five days.
But with the new more mobile technology, Camp Buehring can receive results in less than an hour from four individuals.
Garrett says the service members at the camp have expressed relief and excitement. The quick turnaround means less time worrying about results and far less time in quarantine, which in turn allows troops to focus on their missions.
Having the ability to test subjects on the base quickly has had some positive side effects in other medical areas on the base.
“[The wait for test results] would hold up operations in other areas, such as dental,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Antonio Thomas, a medical laboratory technician with the 345th Field Hospital. “Now that we can test within an hour, more Soldiers can get necessary dental work done.”
The Army is combining education, modern technology, and preventative practices such as social distancing and mask-wearing to help prevent the contraction and spread of COVID-19.
“It’s certainly humbling to know that everyone at Camp Buehring has so much faith in our ability to test for COVID and those of us on the frontline of this crisis,” said Garrett. “But it also feels exhilarating to be able to say that we are the ones pioneering this technology and that we’re charging ahead without fear because at the end of the day, it is about protecting Soldiers, and that’s why I’m wearing this uniform.”