GROTON, Conn. - In early November, Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory’s (NSMRL) Hospital Corpsman Third Class Victoria Diaz returned from a three-month assignment at Parris Island, South Carolina where she assisted the Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) with the COVID-19 Health Action Response for Marines (CHARM) study.
The CHARM study followed Marine recruits who underwent a two-week quarantine at a closed campus prior to boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. Recruits who agreed to participate in the study provided nasal, saliva, and blood samples at several points throughout the two-week quarantine. These samples were tested to determine if the recruits had COVID-19 upon arrival at their designated quarantine location or if they contracted it during their quarantine. Participants also provided a brief health history along with demographic and risk-factor information.
HM3 Diaz was one of a group of U.S. Navy Corpsmen from across the country who helped with various aspects of the study, assisting wherever she was needed. Whether she was collecting nasal swabs, drawing blood and preparing those samples for analysis, processing paperwork, or answering participants’ questions, HM3 Diaz was always eager to lend a helping hand.
One of the primary objectives of the study was to identify individuals who were infected with COVID-19, even if they had few or no symptoms. The results from the study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, indicate that 51 of a total of 1,848 study volunteers tested positive for COVID-19 at some point during the quarantine period. Of these 51 individuals, only five reported having any symptoms.
NMRC’s Commander Andrew Letizia, MD, an infectious disease specialist and lead investigator on the CHARM study, was quoted in an ABC News article as saying “Our data certainly demonstrate the occurrence of asymptomatic spread within this age group.” The article continued, “Without a doubt that's one of the major takeaway findings. Without observing vigorous public health measures and potentially augmenting that with additional testing strategies, you're never going to find these folks and this spread will continue to occur.”
The CHARM study was initiated in May of 2020, and on short notice HM3 Diaz joined the team in August and remained on Parris Island until November to help meet a surge in new study participants. The hours were often long and challenging. HM3 Diaz reported that some days the team saw over 700 study participants. Despite that, she said that she considers her time there very valuable and memorable, stating that as “someone who is relatively new to the Hospital Corpsman field, being able to assist with CHARM was a great opportunity to work with and learn from different people,” and she “appreciated getting the chance to help NMRC with their research effort.”
HM3 Diaz gained unique experience with the team of highly motivated and hardworking researchers, lab technicians and other Corpsmen who all collaborated to ensure the study remained on track. She came away from the study with a greater understanding of how research is conducted and she hopes to use the knowledge she gained to explore other ways to get involved with Navy research efforts, especially those at NSMRL. She was recognized with a letter of commendation from Rear Admiral Timothy Weber, the Commander of Naval Forces Pacific, for her outstanding performance. He highlighted her contributions to enrolling over 1,300 recruits and obtaining 10,000 laboratory samples and personification of the Navy enlisted medical community’s reputation for high standards.
Since returning to Connecticut and completing her Restriction of Movement (ROM), HM3 Diaz is happy to resume her role at NSMRL. She noted that since reporting to duty at NSMRL in May 2020, she has spent more time in South Carolina than she has in Connecticut. While she loved the South Carolina weather and is not looking forward to the coming New England winter, she is ready and excited to jump into work at the lab to help advance NSMRL’s research efforts to enhance the health and readiness of the Navy’s undersea warfighters.