U.S. Navy Establishes COVID-19 Surveillance Testing Program

The U.S. Navy established a surveillance testing program, called Sentinel Surveillance Testing (SST), to test asymptomatic service members for COVID-19 on June 25.

This testing will enable the service to detect asymptomatic COVID-positive individuals, assist in bounding an outbreak, and detect any potential second wave or resurgence of the disease early.

The Navy will conduct testing and collect reports in two-week increments. The first phase of SST begins today.

Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans, and Strategy, was one of the first to be swabbed in the Pentagon as part of the first phase, “I was happy to volunteer to get tested as part of this program. This virus doesn’t discriminate based on rank, so it’s important to make sure we are staying vigilant across the force.”

The goal is to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 across the force and ultimately create a COVID free bubble around units prior to, and while, deployed. Previously, the service’s preventative efforts were primarily focused and maintaining COVID-free deployable units. There is now sufficient testing capacity to expand those efforts more broadly across the Navy.

This expanded effort to protect the force involves testing asymptomatic populations to detect the disease early and to focus public health actions in response. SST is designed to break the chain of disease transmission.

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NORFOLK (June 2, 2020) Hospitalman Bryce L. Albarracin, left, with Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Unit Norfolk, performs a nasal swab on Master-at-Arms 2nd Class William L. Pittman, with Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center, during COVID-19 testing conducted in Norfolk, Va. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Natalia Murillo/Released)

“Our nation is entering a dangerous period of complacency and COVID fatigue that we can’t succumb to. The military must not let its guard down—the Navy in particular,” said Rear Adm. Karl Thomas, Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans, and Strategy. “SST will help detect asymptomatic individuals and thus protect our forces, and allow leadership to understand transmission patterns to adjust processes and measures when and where needed.”

This roll out plan will be accomplished in phases as testing capacity becomes available and processes are refined. Populations with higher risk for infection and transmission will be the initial focus.

These increased risk populations include health care workers, training teams who frequently visit a variety of commands, security guards at entry control points, childcare workers, and galley employees among others. Additionally the Navy will test instructors and students at learning centers and school houses, fleet readiness centers, and high density office personnel.

Continued testing has the added benefit of reinforcing public health mitigation measures and will continue to inform the Navy’s understanding of COVID-19 transmission.

U.S. Navy

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