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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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In Australia, Pathology Profession Receives Recognition for Performing 12 Million COVID-19 Tests, Equal to About Half the Country’s Population

Royal College of Pathologists of Australia says the pandemic is ‘suppressed’ to ‘intermittent’ outbreaks, thanks to the dedication of thousands of pathologists, medical scientists, and laboratory professionals

COVID-19 efforts in Australia have achieved a milestone. Pathology laboratories there have performed more than 12 million SARS-CoV-2 tests since the pandemic began. That is an impressive feat and is equal to about half the country’s population of 25.4 million people.

In a column for ABC News, Dr. Debra Graves, MBBS, Chef Executive Officer, Royal College of Pathologists of Australia (RCPA) and Dr. Lawrie Bott, MBBS, Vice President of RCPA, and Chief Medical Officer of Sonic Pathology Australia, described the accomplishment. “Never before has pathology testing made such a clear contribution to the well-being of the community as during this pandemic,” they wrote.

“It is an incredible feat,” they continued. “Australia’s current position of having effectively suppressed the virus to intermittent outbreaks owes much to the year-long dedication and ingenuity of 35,000 pathologists, medical scientists, lab technicians, couriers, phlebotomists, and ancillary personnel.”

Australia Pathology Society Recognizes Accomplishments

Furthermore, Graves and Bott wrote, pathology in Australia deserves recognition for these pandemic-related accomplishments, among others, as well:

Quick Responses to COVID-19 in the Land Down Under

The Doherty Institute (a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital) offers research, teaching, public health and reference lab services, diagnostics, and clinical care for infectious diseases and immunity.

After receiving the patient sample on Jan. 24, 2020, institute scientists were the first outside China to grow the coronavirus in cell culture, noted a University of Melbourne news release.

Dr. Mike Catton of Doherty Institute putting on a white laboratory coat and safety goggles
“We’ve planned for an incident like this for many, many years, and that’s really why we were able to get an answer so quickly,” Dr. Mike Catton (above), Co-Deputy Director, Doherty Institute and Director of the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL), said in the news release. (Photo copyright: ABC News.)

Doherty Institute researchers also were first to report on immune response to COVID-19, according to a second news release.

Their paper in Nature Medicine, titled, “Breadth of Concomitant Immune Responses Prior to Patient Recovery: A Case Report of Non-Severe COVID-19,” describes the immune response in a 47-year-old COVID-19 positive female who traveled from Wuhan, China, and presented in an emergency department in Melbourne.

Australian researchers were able to respond quickly by using the Sentinel Travelers and Research Preparedness Platform for Emerging Infectious Disease (SETREP-ID) at Royal Melbourne Hospital.

“When COVID-19 emerged, we already had ethics and protocols in place so we could rapidly start looking at the virus and immune system in great deal,” Dr. Irani Thevarajan, Infectious Disease Physician, Doherty Institute, Royal Melbourne Hospital, said in the second news release.

“Our study provides novel contributions to the understanding and kinetics of immune responses during a non-severe case of COVID-19. This patient did not experience complications of respiratory failure or acute respiratory distress syndrome, did not require supplemental oxygenation, and was discharged within a week of hospitalization, consistent with non-severe but symptomatic disease,” Thevarajan and co-authors wrote in Nature Medicine.

Drive-Through COVID-19 Testing Sites in Australia

Also impressive was Australia’s launch of drive-through COVID-19 testing on March 9, 2020, before the pandemic was declared by WHO on March 11.

The COVID-19 testing site in Adelaide, South Australia, was “believed to be a first for the country’s public health system,” ABC News reported.

Was it the first worldwide? Possibly. In “Sean Penn’s Foundation Partners with Healthcare Providers in Four States to Offer Drive-Thru COVID-19 Molecular and Serological Clinical Laboratory Specimen Collections,” Dark Daily reported on COVID-19 drive-through testing sites opening in May, 2020, in four states in the United States with the help of Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), which was founded by Penn following the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti. The non-profit foundation began planning for the drive-through specimen collection sites in April of 2020.

Public Recognition for Medical Laboratories has Global Reach

The COVID-19 response and scientific contributions by pathology laboratory scientists and researchers in Australia are noteworthy. It is also significant that Australia’s pathology professional society sought recognition for medical laboratory workers by detailing their accomplishments during the pandemic and sharing them in media with national and global reach.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Australia Has Recorded 12 Million COVID Tests, and We’re the Envy of the World

Melbourne Scientists First to Grow and Share Novel Coronavirus

Melbourne Researchers Show the Body’s Ability to Fight Novel Coronavirus

Breadth of Concomitant Immune Responses Prior to Patient Recovery: A Case Report of Non-Severe COVID-19

First Drive-Through Coronavirus Testing Station Opens in South Australia

Sean Penn’s Foundation Partners with Healthcare Providers in Four States to Offer Drive Thru COVID-19 Molecular and Serological Clinical Laboratory Specimen Collections

Sean Penn’s Foundation Partners with Healthcare Providers in Four States to Offer Drive-Thru COVID-19 Molecular and Serological Clinical Laboratory Specimen Collections

Goal of his foundation is to provide access to COVID-19 medical laboratory tests for first responders, as well as low-cost tests to the general public

Early in April, when many of the nation’s clinical laboratories were facing numerous challenges in their attempts to obtain adequate supplies for collecting, transporting, and testing for COVID-19, a Hollywood actor was funding his foundation and obtaining enough supplies for his foundation to offer access to COVID-19 testing to residents in his community of Malibu—as well as in other areas.

In many ways, local medical laboratories that offer COVID-19 tests are competing with actor/philanthropist Sean Penn’s Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) foundation for the supplies they need to provide COVID-19 testing to the patients in their own communities. The non-profit organization says it is working with various healthcare providers to provide free coronavirus testing to first responders, and low-cost testing to the general public, in eleven cities and counties in California, Georgia, North Carolina, and Illinois.

In fact, the volume of COVID-19 testing CORE currently provides is large enough that The Hollywood Report published a story on June 3, titled, “How Sean Penn Made the Biggest COVID-19 Testing Site in U.S.” The article stated that, “In late May, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the opening of a new COVID-19 testing site at Dodger Stadium in partnership with CORE, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Live Nation Entertainment, Red Rock Entertainment, and the Los Angeles Fire Department. Operated by CORE and LAFD, this site has capacity to test 6,000 residents a day free of charge––making it three times the size of any other location in L.A. County and said to be the largest testing site in the U.S.”

The Reporter did not make the distinction that the Dodger Stadium site is only collecting specimens. And, no news accounts of the CORE COVID-19 testing program names the clinical laboratories that CORE currently uses to perform the coronavirus tests for the specimens it collects.

CORE Partnered with Private Healthcare Provider Elevated Health

CORE first got underway in 2010 providing disaster relief following the catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. It was known then as the Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO). The foundation initiated its support of COVID-19 testing efforts in California in April, reported the Orange County Register (OCR). At that time, testing was much more limited than it is today and drive-thru testing in most areas in America was not available.

In Huntington Beach, Orange County, Calif., CORE partnered with Elevated Health to provide molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and serological antibody tests for a fee at a drive-thru location in the city of Westminster, reported the OCR.

Elevated Health’s COVID Clinic website enables consumers to complete pre-test enrollment and payment before arriving at the drive-up testing site at the Westminster Mall. 

“Right now, hospitals have very strict guidelines on who can be tested. Public health departments are overwhelmed and possibly underfunded. That’s where I’m trying to bridge the gap,” Matthew Abinante, DO, a doctor of osteopathy and Elevated Health’s founder and CEO, told the OCR.

The coronavirus test kits Elevated Health uses are made in China and were purchased from Georgia-based HealthTrackRx. According to Abinante, they are “FDA authorized, but not FDA approved,” reported the OCR.

Clinical laboratory leaders may be intrigued to see consumers waiting their turn at drive-through testing lines as they take COVID-19 diagnosis into their own hands. Sites like the one above run by Elevated Health at the Westminster Mall demonstrate that people are willing to patronize providers that serve their needs directly. (Photo copyright: Orange County Register.)

CORE Aims to Be a Model for Partnering in Testing

Though CORE’s COVID-19 testing relief efforts are no longer limited to Los Angeles County, that is where it all began. Specimen collection at drive-through sites for COVID-19 tests initially prioritized first responders and essential workers. CORE funds provided for a staff of 70 people at four of the 35 drive-thru specimen collection sites in LA, reported CBS Los Angeles(CBSLA).

CORE-funded services also made it possible for Los Angeles city employees—who were running the drive-thru specimen collection sites—to return to their primary jobs as emergency first responders, reported the Associated Press (AP). 

“It’s something that we can adapt to very quickly with the training of the Los Angeles Fire Department initially. And we’re able to take all those firemen and put them back in to serve the people in the way that we need them to,” said Penn in the AP article.

At that time, city officials planned to perform 10,000 tests a day, Deputy Mayor Jeff Gorell, JD, told the LA Times. The City of Los Angeles purchased the tests and CORE covered the cost of staff, volunteers, and personal protective equipment (PPE), reported the LA Times.

“We have servers and people from the Peace Corps, actresses—a lot of people from the communities where the test site is. We’re trying to hire as much locally as possible,” Ann Lee, CORE’s Chief Executive Officer, told Business Insider.

CORE also partnered with the City of Malibu in western Los Angeles County to provide mobile COVID-19 testing services for the city’s 3,000 residents, first responders, and essential workers from April 6 to 17 at a testing site at Malibu City Hall.

“This is what I hope will be a model in terms of the government and community foundation partnerships that can be replicated not only in the city of Los Angeles and throughout California, but throughout the country,” Sean Penn (above at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing site in Malibu, Calif.), founder of CORE, told CBSLA. Since making that statement, CORE has gone on to partner with healthcare providers in three other states to provide coronavirus drive-thru specimen collection. (Photo copyright: Associated Press/ABC News.)

Should Drive-Through Testing Continue Post-Pandemic?

An April Dark Daily e-briefing reported on drive-thru COVID-19 specimen collection operations across 30 states. The e-briefing also noted that drive-thru collections protects medical laboratory professionals and emergency department staff from possible exposure to infectious agents.

It’s likely many industries—from education and retail to travel and restaurants—will be revamped as a result of the pandemic. Clinical laboratory leaders and pathologists will want to study the different approaches used to develop drive-through COVID-19 specimen collection; how some providers that ran them partnered with charitable organizations such as CORE; why drive-thru specimen collection appeals to consumers; and how it may improve phlebotomists’ safety and increase clinical laboratory business.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

How Sean Penn Made the Biggest COVID-19 Testing Site in U.S.

Private Coronavirus Testing Sites Draw Crowds in Malibu and Westminster

Coronavirus: Mayor Garcetti and Sean Penn of CORE in Partnership

Sean Penn’s Non-Profit Helps Los Angeles, Malibu Expand Testing

Sean Penn Wants to “Save Lives” With Free COVID-19 Testing

Sean Penn’s Nonprofit Boosts COVID-19 Testing Efforts in Los Angeles  

Sean Penn Nonprofit, CORE, Provides Coronavirus Testing in Los Angeles

Drive-Through Coronavirus Testing Spreads Across 30 States Lowering Risk of Exposure to Phlebotomists and Clinical Laboratory Professionals