STA member gathers volunteers for COVID-19 testing surge

The Australian Society for Microbiology put a call out this week for volunteers trained in microbiology to register to help with extra novel coronavirus testing if needed.

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ASM has created a database of scientists who may be able to assist with COVID-19 testing in hospitals or other diagnostics labs across Australia as they ramp up to meet a surge in demand.

Within the first 48 hours alone, more than 1100 skilled scientists and post-grad science students registered. The number is now at 3700 – and continues to grow.

ASM Ambassador Dr Laurence Luu

The idea for the database came from ASM Ambassador Laurence Luu, a postdoctoral research associate at UNSW.

Dr Luu said his idea was inspired by groups in the UK and US calling for scientists to help with COVID-19 testing.

“The countries that have coped best with COVID-19, and flattened the curve, all had one thing in common – widespread testing,” he said

“At the time, the number of COVID-19 cases in Australia was still low – but the curve was starting to become exponential.”

“We thought it was possible that more and more tests would be required as the number of cases in Australia start to increase and hospitals and diagnostic labs may need additional help.”

“The escalating number of those recommended to be tested for COVID-19 requires not only more test kits, but skilled scientists that can perform these tests,” Dr Luu said.

ASM Vice President Dr Rebecca LeBard, a senior lecturer at UNSW, said the society had been overwhelmed by the response, and was still looking for more skilled people who are ready to be deployed.

ASM Vice President Dr Rebecca LeBard

“We have a particular need for people that could be employed in short-term contracts. That is, skilled scientists that are not currently employed full time.

“We are also interested in those who have accredited National Association of Testing Authorities training, though scientists with the necessary skills could receive this training if the need arises,” Dr LeBard said.

ASM is asking volunteer scientists to provide their qualifications, professional background, and relevant skills such as RNA isolation, qPCR or training to work in an accredited NATA laboratory.

“We also ask if individuals are willing to be contacted should there be a need for molecular biology reagents required for testing. We will only share these details for the purposes of needing COVID-19 testing,” Dr LeBard said.

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Misha Schubert said it was inspiring to see an STA member organisation play this role in the fight against novel corona virus.

“The challenges of 2020 – from bushfires, air quality, drought and flood through to the current COVID -19 crisis – have focused the public’s mind on the value of the deep expertise being available to us in moments of challenge or crisis,” she said.

“The ASM – and so many of our members- have deployed magnificently to help in the fight against this virus. In moments of great challenge like these, it’s a powerful resource to the nation to have this level of expertise readily deployable. It’s a key part of our nation’s defence.”

“Congratulations to ASM for their outstanding work – and our thanks to all of our members working hard on the frontlines of this fight. Seeing so many experts coming together to help slow the spread of the virus is a proof-point of the incredible value of our national scientific workforce,” Ms Schubert concluded.

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