JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
A Brooke Army Medical Center microbiologist has deployed to a COVID-19 mobile medical lab at Camp Ripley, Minnesota. U.S. Army Capt. Eric Coate is the only BAMC staff member deployed to Camp Ripley and is the acting lab manager on the ground.
Mobile medical labs are moveable units that are modeled on the inside to handle COVID-19 specimen testing carefully and efficiently. The inside of the lab consists of bench space, biosafety cabinets and COVID-19 testing instruments.
While at Camp Ripley, Coate is surrounded by contractors and people affiliated with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division and Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense.
“There were very spur of the moment things we had to do at first and at times it was stressful but we built resiliency and were able to adapt to the change,” Coate said.
While Coate was the only BAMC Soldier on the ground in Minnesota, he also worked with Lt. Col. Robert Cybulski, Jr., director of microbiology, who oversaw the work remotely from BAMC.
Cybulski explains that the labs have sped up testing and if it weren’t for the mobile medical labs, the national guardsmen being tested would have had to mail all of their tests to another medical location and wait for results before being deployed to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.
There have been nearly 4,000 COVID-19 tests run at Camp Ripley as of the last testing date on July 28, 2020.
“This has been rewarding even from my remote work because I can see that we’ve been able to give medical providers and leaders their results quickly so they can get their deployment process moving,” Cybulski said.
The workers on the ground in Minnesota have been able to give Soldiers their test results within an hour or two. If a Soldier tests positive they are put in barracks for designated isolation for 14 days. If a Soldier has been in contact with someone who tests positive, they are put in a different set of barracks to quarantine for 14 days. The local dining facility delivers three meals a day to those in isolation and quarantine. Soldiers can place outside orders through a local store to be picked up by someone working at the site each day.
Army Lt. Col. Dean Stulz, the deputy state surgeon for the Minnesota National Guard, is currently caring for Soldiers in California but was crucial to early initiatives taken at Camp Ripley.
While Coate had to create a system for specimen labeling and accessioning, tracking specimens and making sure the test results were received by the provider, Stulz assisted with ensuring that the measures and guidelines were met.
“The test turnaround time exceeded expectations and helped things flow better,” Stulz said.
Prior to any testing, Coate and Stulz had to ensure that all testing was Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliant and during testing, there was a collective force to ensure that every Soldier’s results were uploaded to their medical records.
“The fruit of this experience was to hear from commanders and their thank-yous about being able to isolate those who are sick,” Coate said.