We are in the midst of a war against an unseen enemy in COVID-19. Our frontline soldiers are laboratory workers, doctors, nurses and grocery store employees. Though most of us who shop in-person see grocery store cashiers and stock personnel with our own eyes, most of us do not catch a glimpse of lab technicians working hard to keep us safe against the virus. These hardworking individuals are processing thousands of COVID-19 tests every single day to pinpoint who is carrying the virus, ultimately facilitating the necessary treatment and quarantining.
An Unenviable Job
Can you imagine inserting a nasal swab deep down a stranger’s nose to collect a sample that will be tested for a deadly virus? If this does not sound like an ideal day at work to you, you are not alone. The average person has no interest in testing potentially sick individuals for this killer virus yet thousands of altruistic Americans are doing just that every single day.
Once the nasal swabs collect the sample, it is quickly transmitted to a laboratory for prompt, in-depth analysis. Though the lab technicians performing this analysis work outside of the public’s eye, they deserve a considerable amount of credit in the advances we make against COVID-19. In fact, some testing labs such as Northwell Health laboratory in Lake Success are in operation around the clock, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, testing as many samples as possible in our ongoing societal battle against this invisible yet deadly virus.
An Inside Look at the COVID-19 Testing Process
There is much curiosity as to what happens to samples swabbed from our noses during COVID-19 testing. The test sample is quickly put into a tube filled with liquid known as a universal transport media. This liquid keeps the sample completely stable amidst transmission to the lab site. Every attempt is made to keep the sample cool. In certain cases, the sample remains completely frozen in order to ensure the virus stays intact for accurate analysis.
A logistics center collects the samples, labeling them as appropriate and marking them for tracking purposes. Couriers use cold boxes to transport a large batch of samples within biohazard bags to the laboratory. The average courier handles upwards of 200 samples in a single shift.
Once the samples are entered into the system, they are placed in a biosafety container, unwrapped and opened. A portion of the liquid within the tube is removed. From here, the majority of the remainder of the process is automated. If fully automated testing is implemented, labs will prove capable of testing upwards of 1,000 or more samples in a single day.
Though the proper biosafety precautions are followed down to the very last detail in these labs, there is always the chance an individual who handles such samples will be infected. After all, the majority of samples are taken from individuals who have symptoms of illness, possibly those of COVID-19. The process of testing for COVID-19 will gradually improve as more resources are devoted to the virus, possibly resulting in rapid testing generating results in 13 minutes or less, empowering doctors to make quick and potentially life-saving decisions.
A Newfound Respect for Medical Industry Workers
The moral of this story is the frontline workers described above are true American heroes. These brave lab tech professionals are willing to put their personal well-being on the line for the greater good. We should all be thankful for their selflessness in an era of human history in which pursuit of self-interest seems to be our overarching societal ethos.