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Somewhere in a diagnostic laboratory near you...
In the early hours of this morning, in a diagnostic medical laboratory in Aotearoa New Zealand, the 3 millionth nasopharyngeal COVID PCR test was quietly performed with no fuss and no outward celebration.
The Medical Laboratory Scientist then quietly and efficiently finished their shift, took off their PPE, thoroughly washed their hands, changed their mask and headed out the laboratory door; past the other more visible health professionals on their way home.
Once home, like every shift since February 2020, they showered and changed clothes then slumped into a chair and pondered just what has happened in the past few hours and the last 18 months.
Then they will watch and listen as numerous news outlets will critique the endless queues and criticise how long an individual test result has taken to come back. Experts who have never stepped inside a diagnostic laboratory will comment on how much quicker the results should be coming and demand more testing speed and effort. This is as their hands, arms and shoulders ache after pipetting, pooling and analyzing over a thousand samples during the previous shift. They are working in their surge testing pods on a 24-hour roster and are simply awaiting the return to some normality in Alert Level 2.
These are the everyday health professionals who are a vital cog of the COVID-19 elimination plan. They are talented and capable scientists, but they do not change to superheroes in phone boxes either. This is the reality of the hidden world of the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic response, our medical laboratory workforce.
The first COVID PCR test in Aotearoa New Zealand was performed in late January 2020, the 1 millionth test on 11 October 2020, the 2 millionth test on 25 April 2021 and the 3 millionth test today, 1 September 2021.
Since the nationwide Level 4 lockdown on 17 August, there have been over 420,000 COVID PCR tests performed.
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