COVID-19 exposure notifications expand among public health community

The United States data connections

The emergence of COVID-19 required swift action to develop systems and processes that support public health agencies and their pandemic response efforts. This year APHL has worked to create new connections, develop new message formats, standardize language and host a variety of solutions to aid in the COVID-19 response. This blog post is the third in a series that outlines and explains these efforts.

APHL recently announced a new effort to bring COVID-19 exposure notifications to the public health community. Through this collaboration with Apple, Google and Microsoft, APHL has enabled state and territorial public health agencies to provide COVID-19 exposure notifications to residents who choose to receive information regarding COVID-19 exposures in their area.

Today we are excited to announce another step toward expanding exposure notifications in the United States. To reduce the effort needed by public health agencies to bring exposure notification to their jurisdiction, APHL has made available a multi-tenant verification server running on Google Cloud.

Reducing boundaries between jurisdictions

Since July, several states have launched apps using Apple and Google’s Exposure Notifications System (ENS) to augment contact tracing efforts for the disease. Two states have launched an app using ENS with a national key server, hosted by APHL. The national key server allows exposure notifications to work between users who have applications published by different states, which enables the system to work across the US. It assures users can determine when they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 from other states.

As a part of ENS, a verification server is necessary to ensure a user has received a positive test result before uploading their temporary exposure keys to the national key server. Before, each public health agency needed to stand up their own verification server and decide on a verification approach. Having one verification server reduces the additional time and complexity to deploy ENS.

The new multi-tenant verification server provides each state and territory secure access to generate single-use verification codes. These verification codes could be provided to the user by a contact tracer or case investigator—over the phone or via SMS (text message)—after they have verified a positive test result. This server does not store personally identifiable information, but can send verification codes via SMS to make it easier for users to enter the verification code in their app.

The multi-tenant verification server reduces the burden on busy public health agencies and enables more rapid adoption of exposure notification. APHL, as a trusted public health partner, is a key conduit in delivering this solution to the public health community to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

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September is Public Health Laboratory Appreciation Month

September is Public Health Laboratory Appreciation Month graphic featuring Flat Labby character

Hi! I’m Flat Labby! I had hoped to meet you earlier this year, but the past few months have been hectic for everyone. I know it’s been challenging for all of you personally and professionally. So I would like to officially introduce Public Health Laboratory Appreciation Month and say thank you for your hard work and determination!

This month is a celebration of public health laboratory heroes. Check out some of the fun activities below to celebrate APHL member labs and colleagues, and learn more about me, Flat Labby!

Don’t forget to share the fun on social media with #ThanksPHLabs and #FlatLabby:

Where did Flat Labby come from? Read my story!

Flat Labby Adventures
Do you want to share your scientific adventures with a new best friend? Look no further, I’m right here! Let’s get out of the lab and show everyone what you’re up to. Take me on a hike or to a fun event and photograph me in that environment. Have a comment or message to share? Let me help you!

Learn how to Flat Labby and print out these cool cut-outs:

Coloring Pages
Need to relax and get your creative brain moving? Print out one of these fun coloring pages. Grab some markers and colored pencils and bring me to life! Express your enthusiasm for public health labs, or just use me to brag about your art skills on social media!

Labby Letters
Send a letter of gratitude to your staff, coworkers, family and friends. It’s easy with these fun fillable letters. Just type in your sentiments of gratitude, save the file and print or email them to your favorite lab employees.

Celebration Ideas

  • Create a VidHug Video
    VidHug makes it easy to compile video messages from many people – a great way to say thanks from everyone! Create a video for your lab staff, or have your staff make one for another lab. Include me, your Flat Labby, in the VidHug action! Don’t forget to share your videos on social media using #ThanksPHLabs and #FlatLabby.
  • Public Health Laboratory Appreciation Kudoboard
    We’ve created a Public Health Laboratory Appreciation Kudoboard webpage where everyone can share their appreciation for public health labs and their tireless staff! Post your messages of gratitude and good vibes for everyone to see!
  • Customize Flat Labby’s T-Shirt
    Did you notice that one of my t-shirts is blank? The Flat Labby Cool cut-out page has a blank t-shirt, so you can create a funky, one-of-a-kind logo or design! Get everyone involved and have a contest for the best shirt!
  • Get Social (At a Distance)
    Comment and post on social media about your favorite lab staff. Don’t forget to include me, Flat Labby, with your most recent at-home “science project” or with your lab crew at the bench, and use #ThanksPHLabs and #FlatLabby when you post!

Story Time
Check out these inspiring stories about laboratory scientists:

Celebrate the Essential Work of Public Health Labs
Did you know that September is also home of several other related public health awareness celebrations? What a great time to recognize your crew’s essential contributions!

  • National Preparedness Month #BeReady
  • National Newborn Screening Month #2020NBS
  • Food Safety Education Month #FSEM
  • Get Ready Day (September 15) #GetReadyDay
  • National Health IT Week (Date TBD) #NHITweek
  • World Rabies Day (September 28) #WorldRabiesDay

The post September is Public Health Laboratory Appreciation Month appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

Connecting the COVID-19 dots with technology

People in a public transportation hub, checking their phones

The emergence of COVID-19 required swift action to develop systems and processes that support public health agencies and their pandemic response efforts. In the last seven months, APHL has worked to create new connections, develop new message formats, standardize language and host a variety of solutions to aid in the COVID-19 response. This blog post is the second in a series that outlines and explains these efforts.

In order for public health officials to successfully respond to an emerging threat, they need to have a direct line to the public to understand the situation, monitor the spread of disease and provide potentially life-saving guidance to a variety of audiences. In the case of COVID-19, the ability for health departments to monitor those at-risk and advise appropriate isolation measures and medical needs has been critical. Health informatics technology solutions are providing health departments with real-time data, ensuring they can respond quickly to changing threats.

Meet Sara AlertTM

A real-time COVID-19 monitoring and reporting tool, Sara Alert™ was developed by MITRE Corporation in collaboration with APHL and other national public health organizations. Available in the public domain and free of charge to public health agencies, Sara Alert™ is designed to contain the spread of disease through automated and remote monitoring and rapid response. Here’s how it works:

For Monitoring Exposed Individuals

    • Sara Alert™ enables public health officials to enroll individuals who are ill or at risk of developing COVID-19 (e.g., individuals from affected areas or contacts of known cases).
    • Enrolled individuals enter their (and other members of their household) symptoms daily through their preferred platform (i.e., web browser via mobile or desktop, text-based, voice), providing public health officials real-time insights.
    • The information is stored in a secure database and displayed on monitoring line lists so that public health officials can quickly and efficiently identify individuals requiring care coordination or follow up for non-response.

For Monitoring Ill Individuals

    • Sara Alert™ enables public health officials to enroll individuals who have developed a disease, like COVID-19, who need to be monitored to determine when it is safe to discontinue isolation.
    • Once enrolled, individuals enter their symptoms daily through their preferred platform (i.e., web browser via mobile or desktop, text-based, voice), providing public health officials real-time insights.
    • The information is stored in a secure database and displayed on monitoring line lists so that public health officials can quickly and efficiently identify individuals who may discontinue isolation.

Sara Alert™ modernizes the public health monitoring and response system by providing increased efficiency in tracking both active and potential cases, leading to earlier containment of the virus and reduction of burden on public health resources. As an open source tool, Sara Alert™ is available for public and private use and is easily integrated into other healthcare tools.

Sara Alert™ is hosted on the APHL Informatics Messaging Services (AIMS) platform, a secure, cloud-based environment that provides shared services to aid in the transport, validation, translation and routing of electronic data.

A deluge of data

In addition to hosting Sara Alert™, APHL has built and maintains a data lake on AIMS to help paint a comprehensive picture of the nation’s testing landscape and needs.

In the simplest terms, a “data lake” is a repository—it hosts raw data of diverse formats from various sources with no real organizational structure. These data can be accessibly stored and repurposed to meet multiple data needs, such as reporting and visualization of disease trends.

APHL originally developed its data lake as a resource for monitoring cases of antibiotic resistance and was designed with the security and functionality needed to work as part of AIMS. But two weeks before going live, the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent and priorities for the data lake shifted.

Knowing states had valuable data and APHL had technology to scale, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked APHL to reconfigure its data lake to focus on COVID-19. In a matter of weeks, the data late was modified to capture positive, negative and inconclusive COVID-19 testing data.

Today, APHL’s data lake holds nearly all the nation’s COVID-19 testing data sent from public health departments who are reporting their states’ testing data county by county. These data are analyzed and visualized for surveillance and provide a real-time snapshot of the testing landscape nationwide.

Ready for what’s next

Public health officials and epidemiologists remain on high alert for a COVID-19 resurgence, both in the weeks ahead and into the next flu season. Since both the Sara Alert™ platform and COVID-19 data lake are configurable for other conditions, they give scientists an invaluable head start for monitoring in the event of new pandemics and large-scale outbreaks. The advancements and refinements made with monitoring tools and technologies now will help the public health community respond even faster to track and contain an outbreak in the future.

The post Connecting the COVID-19 dots with technology appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

How has COVID-19 created challenges for pediatric lead testing?

Dried blood spots used for lead testing

by Ariana La Grenade-Finch, intern, Environmental Health, APHL

COVID-19 has remained top news for several months and has altered lives in many ways. One of the ways things have changed is in how and the frequency in which laboratories conduct pediatric lead testing, something that, even during a pandemic, remains essential as part of regular pediatric checkups. To further understand COVID-19’s impact on pediatric lead testing, I decided to speak with APHL members from environmental health laboratories.

From a flood to a trickle
At the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services-Bureau of Laboratories, sample collection has been difficult because many pediatric facilities closed for in-person appointments and patients were seen remotely. Samples weren’t being provided as usual. The North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health had a decreased number of specimens submitted during the months following initial stay-at-home orders, but has seen an increase in sample submission from 2,330 specimens in April to 3,515 specimens in May. Despite the difficulties that decreased collections suggest, both of these labs are still receiving some samples and proceeding with lead testing as much as possible.

One laboratory that has been more heavily impacted by decreased testing and hasn’t seen much of an increase in recent months is the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Laboratory in Kentucky. Scientists there have seen a significant decrease in blood lead testing since the pandemic began, dropping from an average of testing five days per week to three days per week due to a lack of sample volume. In April of this year the laboratory received only 126 samples, down from 400 last year.

Because of the decrease in samples and because of increased need for support, many environmental health staff have been repositioned to work on COVID-19 instead of their usual duties. For example, in the Rhode Island State Health Laboratory, which typically performs the state’s largest volume of blood lead testing, there have been days where they received no samples due to the pandemic. Those scientists were moved to support COVID-19 testing leaving fewer hands available for the lead testing work that was needed.

Long-term impact
Decreases in testing point to potential long-term ramifications for children. For some jurisdictions, as pandemic-related restrictions are lifted and pediatrician offices are re-opened, there will be an increase in the number of children being tested. In other areas, such as Louisville, there was already pre-pandemic concern about not screening enough of the high-risk children in the community. This sentiment has only intensified during the course of the pandemic although taking action remains challenging. Louisville had plans to increase screening of pregnant mothers late last year, but the project lost momentum when the pandemic struck and has not changed in recent months despite re-openings.

The lack of screening in certain high-risk populations raises concerns related to delayed diagnoses, implementation steps and interventions concerning children’s health. Discussions with a handful of laboratories have given me a preliminary understanding of how COVID-19 is affecting pediatric lead testing in environmental health laboratories across the nation, but there is variation and there will be more to explore as the pandemic continues.

Read more about the interest in pediatric lead testing.

Ariana La Grenade-Finch is currently a Program Analyst with the Office of Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency.

The post How has COVID-19 created challenges for pediatric lead testing? appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

Five food safety tips to keep your family healthy

Preparing a salad in the kitchen

By Kirsten Larson, manager, Food Safety, APHL, and Robyn Randolph, senior specialist, Food Laboratory Accreditation, APHL

In this time of COVID-19, the ways in which we get and consume our food likely look much different from a year ago. Whether it is takeout, delivery, meal kits or homemade, meals at home are occurring much more frequently. Some of you might be using this time to brush up on your cooking skills, hoping to become a competitor on Chopped. But before you can become the next Chopped champion, it is important to know the basics of food safety–serving raw chicken to a judge (or a family member) can have serious consequences. Here are five food safety tips to help keep your meals safe:

  1. Keep your space clean

No one wants to eat food from a dirty kitchen. Make sure you are washing your hands before cooking, especially after handling raw meats, poultry or eggs, as these items can carry foodborne pathogens. Sanitize your cutting boards, utensils and countertops with a bleach solution or hot, soapy water to kill any bacteria that might be lingering. Wash your fruits and veggies with water, even before peeling as this can help rid them of bacteria-containing debris that might be lingering on the surface. However, you should not wash raw meats, poultry or eggs since potential pathogens can be aerosolized and spread around your kitchen.

  1. Separate food items

Like the Real Housewives on a reunion special, foods need to be kept separate for the safety of others. Cross-contamination is a huge source of foodborne illness, but it can be avoided by using different utensils and surfaces when preparing your meal. When making chicken fajitas, for example, you should use a dedicated cutting board for slicing your chicken and other raw meats and a different cutting board for slicing your peppers and onions. When grilling hamburgers, do not use the same plate to transfer the raw and cooked burger patties.

  1. Cook foods to the correct temperature

The food thermometer is a critical kitchen tool that will not only help prevent overcooked pork chops, it will ensure that you are cooking foods to a safe temperature. USDA provides guidance on the safe internal temperature for foods, including:

    • Steaks, chops and roasts (Beef, pork, lamb, veal, fish) – minimum 145°F (62°C)
    • Ground meats – 160°F (71°C)
    • Poultry – 165°F (73°C)

Be sure that you take the temperature of each food item you prepare. Reheat all leftovers to 165°F. Know your microwave’s wattage so that you can follow cooking instructions on frozen food items.

  1. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold

“Hot” means 140°F (60°C) or warmer, while “cold” is 40°F (4.4°C) or colder. Do not keep food out for more than two hours at room temperature or for more than one hour above 90°F (32°C), as this will become a breeding ground for pathogens. If you are eating outside this summer, consider dishes that include no eggs or dairy to decrease the risk of foodborne illness.

  1. Store your food safely

Food safety is not just about how you prepare the meal, it’s also about how the food is stored. Be sure to cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish and ground meat within two days of purchase–other meats should be used within 3-5 days. Use cooked leftovers within four days or throw them away. Ensure meat and poultry packaging is not leaking, and keep thawing meat or poultry away from fresh foods like fruits or veggies in the refrigerator (on the bottom shelf to prevent drips).

Being a great cook is not just about making delicious food. A great cook avoids intestinal mayhem by ensuring that food is safe to consume. With these food safety tips, you will be ready to create a pathogen-free feast for your friends and family…when you’re ready to have folks over for dinner.

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The importance of sustained federal funding for public health

Erik Riesdorf of Wisconsin prepares specimens for testing in the laboratory

By Stephanie Barahona, associate specialist, Public Health Preparedness and Response, APHL and Sam Abrams, specialist, Public Health Preparedness and Response, APHL

As hospitals across the country work to manage a constant influx of COVID-19 patients, their partners in public health are addressing critical community and statewide testing needs. While both the healthcare and public health systems are responding to the pandemic, their approach is different: healthcare systems focus on providing individual patient care while public health supports an entire population’s health. In this response, and like many before, the role of the public health laboratory in detecting and responding to threats has never been more critical. But public health laboratories are often only funded when there is a crisis such as Ebola, Zika, vaping and now COVID-19. This approach to federally fund laboratories while in emergency mode leaves the nation vulnerable.

Preparedness funding 101

Although public health laboratories receive funding support from their state and local governments, the federal government provides the majority of their preparedness and response funding. Via the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases Cooperative Agreement (ELC) and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement (PHEP), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the primary funder of state, local and territorial public health laboratories. For 25 years, the ELC has been a source of significant financial support that enables public health laboratories to conduct surveillance and respond to vector-borne diseases, food and waterborne diseases and other emerging threats such as pandemic influenza and COVID-19. In Fiscal Year 19 (FY19), which represents August 1, 2019, to July 31, 2020, total ELC funding was approximately $231 million, of which 43% went to public health laboratories to support testing and surveillance needs.

On an annual basis, approximately 90% of funding for public health preparedness and response efforts come from PHEP. Following the anthrax attacks of 2001, total PHEP funding to public health agencies peaked in 2003 at $970 million (unadjusted)—a year in which public health laboratories received $167.7 million for biological and chemical preparedness. Over the years, this funding has decreased considerably. In FY 2019 (July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020), PHEP funding totaled $620 million. This was similar to 2018 when the jurisdictions received $620 million, of which public health laboratories received $81.5 million (Figure 1).

Figure 1: PHEP Funding to Public Health Laboratories, 1999-2018 (in millions $)

Funding has continued to lag for ELC and PHEP, creating challenges for laboratories to remain adequately prepared. ELC-recipient public health laboratories remain underfunded by 70% in personnel support while laboratory equipment and supplies, which are critical for detecting infectious diseases, face a shortage of 60%. Over 39% of ELC funding requests for health information systems went unfunded in FY19, resulting in $29 million less than health departments needed to sustain syndromic surveillance, electronic laboratory reporting and other systems necessary to track patient cases and limit the disease burden. Cuts to PHEP funding impacted preparedness activities as well. Up to half of state public health laboratories faced cuts over the past few years, resulting in the inability to expand capabilities for new assays and tests and hiring necessary staff.

Staying ahead of emerging threats

Funding shortages are most evident during a public health crisis. The federal government has largely responded to public health emergencies through just-in-time supplemental funding. The 2014 Ebola virus epidemic exposed significant gaps in US operational readiness to respond to a threat of its kind. Congress responded with millions of dollars, of which $110 million went to state, local and territorial health departments via the ELC. Approximately $21 million of these funds were provided to public health laboratories over a three-year period (extended in most cases to four years) to enhance biosafety and biosecurity, infection control and other urgent gaps. By enhancing outreach efforts, public health laboratories were able to engage clinical laboratorians and provide guidance on risk assessments, appropriate use of personal protective equipment, decontamination and other biosafety issues.

When the funding ended in 2018, many public health laboratories were forced to reduce biosafety staff and diminish outreach efforts. This presented challenges to recruiting and maintaining qualified staff as many worried about a subsequent loss of funds. The emergence of Zika proved similar to Ebola, with CDC issuing $97 million in supplemental funding via the ELC.  

Response to COVID-19 is no different. Congress is appropriating billions of dollars and public health agencies now face a surge of funds at the height of a pandemic:

  • At the beginning of the response, CDC redirected funds from its internal activities to state, local and territorial health departments via the Crisis Response Cooperative Agreement.
  • An initial $10 million was distributed to select jurisdictions through the ELC.
  • On March 5, the president signed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (PL 116-123). This act provided funding to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19. By March 16, CDC via the Public Health Crisis Response Cooperative Agreement awarded $569.8 million to 65 jurisdictions. On April 6, another $160 million was awarded to 34 jurisdictions. This included 27 jurisdictions with high COVID-19 case counts or evidence of rapidly accelerating case counts and seven US territories and freely associated states with unique COVID-19 response challenges.
  • In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, provided billions in supplemental funding, with a total of $631 million awarded via the ELC to state, local and territorial health agencies to increase testing capability and capacity, improve surveillance and additional efforts necessary for the US to successfully combat COVID-19.

Finding long-term solutions

While these additional funding sources are a welcome relief to underfunded public health systems, they do not provide a long-term solution for combating new threats.  With each response, public health is behind—they have no ability to be ready to respond to novel and large-scale threats. This lag limits the ability for public health laboratories to quickly ramp up testing capacity needed to stay ahead.

Consistent and sustainable federal funding for public health laboratories is key to stay ahead of threats. Such funding provides:

  • A warm base where laboratories are poised to quickly and safely respond, which encompasses highly trained laboratory scientists, biosafety professionals and other support personnel; high-throughput equipment and electronic data messaging tools; and communication systems and agreements in place with other laboratories such as commercial laboratories.
  • The opportunity for scientists to validate and verify equipment and assays, ensuring timely, accurate results and sustained confidence in quality laboratory testing.
  • Reagents and other laboratory supplies, including personal protective equipment, so that laboratorians can appropriately and safely perform testing and provide ample capacity within their jurisdictions.
  • A national laboratory system comprised of private and public laboratories working side by side to protect the public’s health.

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Lab Culture Ep. 22: Life as a public health lab scientist testing for COVID-19

Matt Sinn and Jessica Bauer pose with the Missouri state flag

Jessica Bauer and Matt Sinn are scientists at the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory. On this episode, they shared their experiences performing COVID-19 testing, working long hours seven days a week, supporting their staff while trying not to burnout themselves. As they describe in this conversation, the experience has been nothing they ever could have expected.

Jessica Bauer, molecular unit chief
Matthew Sinn, molecular laboratory manager

Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts:


Missouri State Public Health Laboratory
APHL: Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 posts on 

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Bringing COVID-19 exposure notification to the public health community

People interacting in a park while looking at their cellphones.

Starting in 2006 with the Public Health Laboratory Interoperability Project (PHLIP)—one of the first systems that allowed public health entities to exchange standardized data—APHL has worked to make connections between public health laboratories and agencies more efficient. Those efforts took a dramatic step forward with the APHL Informatics Messaging Services (AIMS) platform, which has evolved from a one-way router of critical health information to a secure, cloud-based platform that transports, translates, validates and hosts data for federal, state and local public health agencies.

 The emergence of COVID-19 required swift action to develop systems and processes that support public health agencies and their pandemic response efforts. In the last seven months, APHL has worked to create new connections, develop new message formats, standardize language and host a variety of solutions to aid in the COVID response. This blog post, regarding exposure notification, is the first in a series that outlines and explains these efforts.

How Does Exposure Notification Work?

To limit the spread of COVID-19, information must travel faster than the virus can. The scope and transmission rate of COVID-19 makes this a monumental challenge for public health agencies. Exposure notification technology, however, is a potential game changer. By providing rapid alerts to individuals who may have been in close proximity to someone who has COVID-19, exposure notifications allow the spread of information to stay one step ahead.

Working in conjunction with Apple, Google and Microsoft, APHL is taking a major step to support public health agencies that want to provide focused, privacy-preserving and user-controlled exposure notifications at scale using the Apple | Google Exposure Notifications System. APHL’s presence on the project gives the US public health community a capable and accountable partner for hosting key components of this groundbreaking technology.

The Apple | Google Exposure Notifications System (A|G ENS)

To augment traditional COVID-19 contact tracing efforts around the world, Apple and Google co-developed the A|G ENS, which consists of an Exposure Notification Application Protocol Interface (API) that is available on both the iOS and Android operating systems. Apps developed by public health agencies can then use the Exposure Notification API to help determine if a user may have been exposed to another user who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. This is accomplished through the use of privacy-preserving randomly generated numbers also known as keys, which in turn generate temporary IDs that are transmitted between devices using Bluetooth Low Energy signals. Apps using this system are not permitted to collect or use location data from the device, and user identities are not revealed to other users, Apple, Google or APHL.

Rather than each state and territorial public health agency bearing the burden of building and hosting its own key servers, a national server can securely host the keys of those affected users, eliminate duplication and enable notifications across state borders. APHL is also championing the effort to build and host a national key server on behalf of the public health community. This will allow users to continually benefit from exposure notifications as they travel across state lines, and help state and territorial agencies deploy their apps quickly.

“APHL’s participation is key to the success of these efforts,” said Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “Without a national key server, each state that chooses to implement such an application would be responsible for its own data sets. APHL’s centralized and secure national server will be accessible to every state public health agency.”

Microsoft is supporting the partnership by working with APHL to host the national key server, based on the open source reference design created by Google Cloud. Through Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, Microsoft will provide cloud services that will allow APHL to host the key server and securely enable interstate operability for the apps that public health agencies deploy.

Only users who choose to download an app developed by their public health agency and voluntarily opt in can receive exposure notifications. If users are alerted to a possible exposure, the app will also provide information about what to do next.

“We’re honored to partner with Apple, Google and Microsoft to make this groundbreaking technology accessible to state and territorial public health agencies,” Bill Whitmar, president of APHL and director of the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory, said. “Apps using this technology will rapidly inform users of a potential exposure to COVID-19 and provide them information they can use to protect themselves and their families.”

APHL develops technological innovations that support public health agencies at the federal, state and local level. For more information on how your agency can benefit from a partnership with APHL, contact


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The Story Collider Presents: APHL – call for story pitches

The Story Collider and APHL logos

Sadly, in its inaugural year, APHL’s ID Lab Con had to be canceled. Well, most of it… APHL planned an exciting after hours event with The Story Collider and we’re joining them in bringing this event to you online!

On August 27 (time TBD), The Story Collider and APHL will host a very special edition of their online live show. They will choose three people to share true, personal stories related to the COVID response in some way, showcasing the work and lives of the APHL community.

What is The Story Collider?

Science and public health shape everyone’s life—and that means everyone has science and public health stories to tell. The Story Collider produces dozens of live shows all over the country, and recently has moved to an exciting online format. Some of the stories are heartbreaking, others are hilarious, but they are all true and all very personal. Join us on August 27, 2020 (time TBD) for a very special edition of The Story Collider, featuring three true, personal stories about science from APHL members!

What makes a good story for this event?

Stories are powerful. Whether hilarious or heartbreaking, subversive or soothing, it matters who takes the stage and what stories are told. Whatever your position in the lab, we want to hear yours! The story must have an arc. This means that you, the storyteller, change from the beginning to the end of the story. This change can be big or small— as momentous as becoming a parent or as small as learning to ask for help—but it has to be there in order for the audience to feel that the story is going somewhere.

Is this similar to a conference presentation?

The Story Collider is not the place for lectures: it is about lived experiences. And the format does not include slides or props. Though this is a science storytelling show, the goal is not to educate the audience, but to build an emotional connection between science and the public. So while each story must contain a significant science element, please use only as much science as needed for the audience to understand and follow your story.

I have an idea, but it needs some help!

All you need at this point is the seed of an idea for your story. It can be about almost anything – being pulled away from your usual work to support COVID testing, a surprising realization, long days at the lab, supporting a team, misadventure, love, loss and more, but it must be about YOU. True, personal stories have the most power when they are about the person telling them. Let the audience in on your thoughts and feelings so they can go on the journey with you.

If you are selected for the show, keep in mind that there is a small time commitment involved. Every storyteller works one on one with a Story Collider producer to brainstorm and shape their story, and then they typically hold a group rehearsal one to three days before the show.

The Story Collider event will be recorded. If you would like to submit a pitch, please be sure to get any necessary permissions from your supervisor and public information officer.

Send your pitches!

Pitches are typically about two paragraphs long. Send your pitch to with “APHL Story Idea” in the subject line. The deadline for pitches is July 10, 2020.

Need some inspiration?


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APHL Celebrates the 2020 Award Winners

Collage of all 2020 APHL award winners

The Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) is pleased to announce the winners of its annual awards for outstanding achievements in laboratory science, creative approaches to solving today’s public health challenges and exemplary support of laboratories serving the public’s health. Awardees were honored on June 25, 2020 during a virtual ceremony. A recording of the awards ceremony is available on APHL’s Facebook page. Congratulations to all award winners!

Celebrate the 2020 APHL Award Winners from APHL on Vimeo.

The following awards were presented:

Lifetime Achievement Award – This award recognizes individuals who have established a history of distinguished service to APHL, made significant contributions to the advancement of public health laboratory science or practice, exhibited leadership in the field of public health and/or positively influenced public health policy on a national or global level. This is not a retirement award, but a true Lifetime Achievement Award.

Gold Standard Award – The award is given to an APHL member who makes or has made significant contributions to the technical advancement of public health laboratory science and/or practice.

Silver Award – This award honors a laboratorian with 10 to 15 years of service in a Governmental public health laboratory (either Public Health or Environmental/Agricultural laboratory). The honoree will be recognized as a leader both within their home laboratory as well as external to their laboratory.

On the Front Line Award – This award honors an individual or laboratory outside of the APHL membership who makes significant contributions to the advancement of public health laboratory science and/or practice.

Emerging Leader Award – This award honors a laboratorian whose leadership has been instrumental in one or more advances in laboratory science, practice, management, policy or education within five to 10 years of working at a publicly funded laboratory that conducts testing of public health significance.

Leadership in Biosafety and Biosecurity Award – This award honors a laboratorian with over 10 years of related service in the field of biosafety and biosecurity in a state and/or local public health laboratory. The honoree will be recognized as a leader both within their home laboratory as well as external to their laboratory (for example, by serving in a leadership role in committees/taskforces at the national level).

Champion of the Public Health Laboratory Award – This award recognizes federal, state and local elected officials or executive branch employees who have recognized the importance of state and local governmental laboratories that perform testing of public health significance either through support of legislation or federal agency decisions.

Presidential Award – The APHL Presidential Award was selected by Dr. Grace Kubin during her Presidential year (2019-2020) for the significant contributions that were made to the association’s work to promote policies that strengthen public health laboratories.

Healthiest Laboratory Award – This award is given to an APHL member laboratory that is committed to safety, environmental process, environmental policy and employee health and wellness.

Thomas E. Maxson Education, Training and Workforce Development Award – This award was established in August of 1998 in memory of Dr. Maxson, and honors an APHL member who is a public health or clinical laboratory practitioner, trainer or educator who has made significant contributions to public health laboratory practice by creating, delivering or developing continuing education opportunities, programs, policies or practices for the laboratory community.


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