Laboratories have been at the center of the battle against COVID-19, but this is not necessarily unfamiliar territory as labs have played critical roles in other outbreaks, including SARS, Zika, and 2009 H1N1. Many lessons have been learned along the way.
On Monday, December 14, at 11:00 am Central, the 2020 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting Chair’s Invited Session, “Pandemic Preparedness: The Role of Clinical Laboratories and Public Health in Controlling Outbreaks Representing a Global Health Threat,” reviews the positive impact made by public health and clinical laboratories on global pandemic response, based on experience with outbreaks occurring over the last 20 years.
This year certainly has been chaotic, but the challenges brought about by COVID-19 have uncovered nuggets of knowledge to deal with this and future pandemics. Matthew Binnicker, PhD, director of the virology lab at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, shares his take-aways not only from COVID-19, but also other outbreaks. Joining him are Kirsten St. George, PhD, and Morgan Pence, PhD, who relay their perspectives as director of a public health laboratory and a clinical microbiologist at a children’s hospital, respectively.
The need for an adaptable healthcare infrastructure that includes rapid and widespread diagnostic testing has become clear from these epidemics. “As it is almost certain that we will face other emerging infectious diseases in the future,” Binnicker says, “it is essential that we take this opportunity to develop an infrastructure that allows us to rapidly develop and implement testing in as many frontline clinical laboratories as possible. This will require a strong partnership between public health labs, reference laboratories, community laboratories, test manufacturers, and the state and federal government.”
He adds that preventing the spread of future infectious diseases will require a reliable means for developing rapid assays, availability of reagents, swabs and other disposables, staff to conduct testing, and processes for reporting results efficiently.
Binnicker believes that clinical and public health labs must work in partnership to achieve the best outcomes in this and any future pandemics. In this talk he, St. George, and Pence outline their recommendations for effectively achieving this collaboration.