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AFMC begins phased COVID-19 surveillance testing

COVID-19 testing

Airman 1st Class Kokou Dekadjevi, 96th Medical Group, administers a COVID-19 test Aug. 10 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Dekadjevi and the medical group’s diagnostic testing center employees administered more than 330 tests in a two-day span to 7th Special Forces Group Soldiers returning from a deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ilka Cole)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --

Air Force Materiel Command began a phased roll-out of COVID-19 surveillance testing Oct. 1, 2020. 

This surveillance testing will initially begin with active-duty populations at four AFMC bases: Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.; Eglin AFB, Fla.; Hanscom AFB, Mass.; and, Hill AFB, Utah. Participation in this testing effort is voluntary.

The testing will be conducted in 14-day periods, eventually testing 100 total active-duty personnel at each location within the first two months of testing. The active-duty populations selected for testing at the above locations include the following:

  • Period 1: Healthcare workers
  • Period 2: Dorm residents
  • Period 3: Host wing personnel
  • Period 4: Installation workforce

As testing efforts are fine-tuned and streamlined, testing will expand farther to other AFMC installations and among other base populations. At this point in time, testing will begin only within these active-duty populations.

The testing effort is part of a larger Department of the Air Force sentinel surveillance strategy to randomly test Air and Space Force military and civilian personnel to identify and contain pockets of the coronavirus. The goal is to test people without symptoms for COVID-19 to determine if additional public health actions are needed in work areas. Ultimately, the Air Force wants to ensure Airmen and the Air Force community remain healthy and able to fly, fight and win in air, space, and cyberspace.

Individuals selected for testing will be notified via an email message from their local Military Treatment Facility. Any selected personnel with a positive confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 90 days will not be tested.

These four bases will use the oral fluid coronavirus test provided by Curative, Inc., with whom the Air Force signed an agreement in April to deploy and scale an oral fluid coronavirus test that received a Food and Drug Administration emergency-use authorization. The test collects saliva with a cotton swab and examines it for the COVID-19 virus. 

Four to six individual samples will be grouped together (also called aggregated testing). The aggregated sample will receive an identification number and then be tested for the presence of the COVID-19 virus. Due to the rules for using this test to identify COVID-19 activity in populations of people without symptoms, tests will not be ordered through the medical system and results will not be placed in health records.

Aggregated sample results will be provided to commanders to allow them to take public health actions in response to the presence of COVID-19 in the work area, even if people seem healthy.

No notifications will be made to commanders if an aggregated result is negative. If an aggregated result is positive, the local Public Health Office can provide tailored guidance for the unit that might include individuals in the group receiving a medical evaluation and following strict public health precautionary measures (maintain six feet of distance from others, wear a cloth face mask, frequently wash hands, and avoid large gatherings).

It is recommended that if individuals are unable to get medically evaluated (if part of the positive aggregate group) that they self-isolate for 10 days from the date the test was collected, assuming the individuals remain asymptomatic. Public Health Office actions may also include a site visit to evaluate the work area and work practices, and possibly thorough cleaning of the work area. Regardless of result outcomes, all personnel should continue practicing public health precautionary measures at all times.

At AFMC installations, testing begins with a randomized selection of 10 active-duty Airmen every 14 days to be tested, beginning with 10 health care workers. The next 14 days will see 10 randomly selected dorm residents, added to the 10 health care workers tested. The following 14 days will add 10 randomly selected host wing personnel to Airmen selected from the other two groups. The next 14 days will add 10 randomly selected Airmen from the installation workforce.

The testing effort will be continually evaluated and refined with each round of testing, as may be needed. At the end of the two month roll-out phase, and once the testing is further streamlined, AFMC leadership will evaluate and possibly begin an expansion of the surveillance testing.

More information for Airmen affected by the surveillance testing can be found in the AFMC COVID-19 Surveillance Testing FAQ at AFMC COVID-19 Tier 4 Surveillance Testing FAQ or via their local MTF.