Health Watch: Fairbanks Public Health Laboratory reflects on pandemic impact

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Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 4:47 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - This week is National Public Health Week, and the Fairbanks Public Health Laboratory shared some insights on their role during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Nisha Fowler, Public Health Laboratory Manager for the Alaska State Virology Laboratory, the lab works behinds the scenes of the public health system to track and identify diseases.

“For our public health laboratory, we have a role in supporting public health nursing and all these forward facing individuals that do amazing work directly with the communities,” Fowler explained. “We do a lot of work for surveillance for respiratory illnesses and things like that, and we also do a lot of outbreak investigations. So our role, especially, in this pandemic was to support that effort with outbreak investigation, making sure we were tracking the disease, and being in contact with our public health partners at public health nursing and state epidemiology.”

Additionally, the Fairbanks laboratory was one of the few facilities able to properly test for the virus at the start of the pandemic.

“At the very beginning of the pandemic there were no other facilities in the state, outside of the state public health laboratories, that were able to test for this virus,” Fowler elaborated. “We had a huge impact at the very beginning, being able to detect the virus, and getting that information back to our public health partners and to clinicians and doctors around the state.”

One of the themes of this year’s National Public Health Week is “Public Health is Where You Are,” and according to Fowler, that holds a special meaning for the lab. “We all are a part of the communities that we live in. No matter what we do in those communities, we’re a part of the community. We support our communities every single day by living here, shopping here and doing all of those things. We are a part of the community. So that is what ‘Public Health Where We [sic] Are’ means to me is I’m a part of this community, so I’m going to support this community in any way that I can.”

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