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Microbiology Supervisor, LifeScan Laboratory

When COVID started in February and March of this year, one of the first things that happened to clinical laboratories was the unavailability of receiving critical supplies.  Our laboratory was not testing for COVID at that time, but because there was limited testing for COVID available, all laboratories limited COVID testing to those people who were negative for other common virus infections such as influenza.  Both the influenza and COVID specimens were collected by swabbing the nasal passages and putting the swabs into a tube containing a viral transport medium.  Besides the fact that March is the high season for flu infections in Illinois, we were now inundated with requests for additional influenza tests.  Unfortunately, viral transport medium was impossible to obtain just like alcohol and tissue paper became next to impossible to obtain for everyone else.  In fact, we only received our first small shipment of viral transport medium a month ago and will not get another shipment for another 2 months.  Obviously, in order to do influenza testing I would have to find another transport medium.  The immunassay we use is called Sofia, by a company called Quidel, would work using 1 ml of saline.  Unfortunately,  many of our clients sent us the swabs in 3 ml of saline since that was the volume used for viral transport medium.  The test could not be done using the 3 ml of saline.  I had at home some microbiological powder media and was able to come up with a medium to add to the saline to make the influenza test work.  So instead of having to dispose of all the swabs we were sent, I was able to test them, successfully. 

At the same time I read an article that Israel also could not obtain the M4 viral transport medium for their COVID testing. I thought that maybe my solution for doing influenza testing might be useful for the Israelis.  I contacting my sister, Dr. Lisa Rubin, who was at the time the Director of the Division for Mother and Child of the Israel Ministry of Health (מנהלת המחלקה לאם ולילד) and asked her if I could send my information to the person who was doing the testing in Israel.  She sent me the e-mail address of Dr. Ruti Yishai who is the head of laboratories in Israel and I wrote her an e-mail on March 22 describing what I was using in our laboratory in Skokie.  I received a reply the same day thanking me for the information and saying it is indeed useful, since they are trying to cope with the situation I mentioned.

I may never know if they used any information I gave them or not, but shortly afterwards Israel was able to develop their own methods and started testing for COVID.  Though the formula for viral transport medium is known and there are many substitutes that can be devised, I just did what I thought I should do in case the information I had might be helpful.

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