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Staying Connected to Help the Nation’s COVID-19 Response

Kathleen G. Beavis, MD
American Board of Pathology
Specialty: Clinical Pathology

On December 25, 2019, Kathleen G. Beavis, MD of the University of Chicago contacted former colleagues in Wuhan, China to learn about the mysterious respiratory illness they were reportedly facing.

“Five years ago, I taught at the Wuhan Medical School as part of an educational alliance through my university,” said Dr. Beavis. “When I saw news coverage of a highly contagious respiratory illness there, I reached out to my former colleagues to express support and learn what could be done to battle this virus if it came to the United States.”

On January 6, 2020, Beavis shared what she had learned about the respiratory virus in Wuhan during her weekly all-staff Microbiology meeting. They discussed changes they wanted to make in their facility and processes to be able to safely meet a potential rush of testing for this novel coronavirus.

“Based on how the Wuhan pathologists believed the virus spread, our team took a fresh look at every step in our regular testing process,” said Dr. Beavis. “We spent a lot of time in January and February re-arranging our procedures, workspace, and workflow to ensure the accuracy, timeliness, and safety of our testing.”

Working day and night, the team also set to work on bringing up assays as quickly as possible. On March 15, their laboratory was the first to bring up a high throughput, automated, assay in the City of Chicago. By the end of July, their laboratory had also implemented sample pooling to conserve reagents.

“Pathologists, medical technologists, and other laboratory professionals have become the unsung heroes of the global COVID pandemic,” said Dr. Beavis. “Pathologists have been 24/7 leaders on the front lines, developing accurate tests to help their physician colleagues make reliable and timely diagnoses and curb community spread.”

More than 30 years of training and experience came together during the COVID-19 pandemic and informed her response. “I had a lot of preparedness and bioweapons training from the federal and local governments in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. That, coupled with experiences with the SARS-1, H1N1, and Ebola outbreaks, helped our laboratory to be as prepared as it could be for this pandemic.”

To stay current on the latest on COVID-19 throughout the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Beavis and her team touched base with colleagues across the globe each morning and evening to share information. They reviewed the latest online articles in journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Microbiology and combed list servs for best practices and innovations.

And the learning is far from over. “With millions of lives at stake, we can never afford to be satisfied or complacent. As our nation tries to ‘open up’ fully again, we must continue to learn from others and be creative and flexible,” said Dr. Beavis.

Like many others, Dr. Beavis has been disturbed by the disparities in medicine and society that this pandemic has revealed and underscored. “It is sobering to see how the very people who are risking their health to keep our society going, including health care workers, retail employees, and first responders, are being taken for granted by that same society. It’s not too much to ask that these vital workers have access to health care, effective personal protective equipment (PPE), and support to handle their personal and professional lives.”

Certified by the American Board of Pathology (ABPath), Dr. Beavis is a Professor of Pathology at the University of Chicago. She serves as a Trustee for the ABPath.

(Published: October 9, 2020)

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