Feature   Defense News

Michigan Guardsmen Support COVID-19 Detection Effort

May 4, 2020 | BY AIR FORCE MASTER SGT. DAVID EICHAKER

With some 750 Michigan National Guard soldiers and airmen distributing food, managing supplies and supporting alternate care facilities in the fight against COVID-19, two specially trained guardsmen answered the call from the state's Bureau of Laboratories.

During a typical flu season, the lab tests 1,000 flu specimens, Dr. Diana Riner, a virology and immunology section manager for the Michigan Bureau of Laboratories, said. But ever since the COVID-19 outbreak, that number has significantly increased, she added.

"From the start of February to where we are in April, we have tested more than 10,000 specimens for COVID-19," said Riner, whose lab falls under the state's Department of Health and Human Services. "We went from working five days a week with one shift to seven days a week with two shifts."

A Michigan National Guardsman performs a COVID-19 detection test.
Medical Services
Army Capt. Nicholas Buck, a medical operations officer and medical section leader with the Michigan Army National Guard's 51st Civil Support Team, performs a COVID-19 detection test at the Michigan Bureau of Laboratories, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as part of the Guard's COVID-19 pandemic response effort in Lansing Mich., April 17, 2020. More than 750 Michigan National Guard soldiers and airmen are conducting numerous state response missions, such as distributing food, managing supplies and logistics and supporting alternate care facilities.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. David Eichaker, Michigan Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200417-Z-LI010-002M

To keep up with the influx in testing, a call went out to find professionals with the required certifications, education, training and expertise to work in the highly technical lab. In stepped two Michigan 51st Civil Support Team guardsmen to answer the call.

"It does help offset some of their workload," Army Capt. Nicholas Buck, the medical operations officer and medical section leader for the 51st Civil Support Team, said. "It helps provide them a little bit of relief."

Buck, who earned a bachelor's degree in premedical preparation, with minors in chemistry and military science from Indiana's Ball State University, had what they were looking for.

"Having the CST background and training really was very beneficial," he said. "We train on weapons of mass destruction response, and this really fits well into our response capability."

It is an honor to not only provide help to the lab, but realize decisions are being made on our results that positively impact the public."
Army Capt. Nicholas Buck, medical operations officer and medical section leader, 51st Civil Support Team

Testing a specimen for COVID-19 may sound like a simple task, but according to Buck, it isn't.

"One manual extraction of 12 clinical samples can take up to two hours," he said. "After it's extracted, the samples will get moved over to where they can be worked on real-time [polymerase chain reaction]."

"There are certain primers and probes that will match-up the specific RNA code that would be for COVID-19," Buck continued. "If it's amplified through that PCR process, it would be a positive result."

The testing phase can be exhausting, he said.

"Manual extractions are very physically demanding," Buck said. "With repetitive motions for six to eight hours continuously, you can feel the tenseness in your neck and back."

The Guard's assistance is just what the doctor ordered.

A Michigan National Guardsman performs a COVID-19 detection test.
Medical Services
Army Capt. Nicholas Buck, a medical operations officer and medical section leader with the Michigan Army National Guard's 51st Civil Support Team, performs a COVID-19 detection test at the Michigan Bureau of Laboratories, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as part of the Guard's COVID-19 pandemic response effort in Lansing Mich., April 17, 2020. More than 750 Michigan National Guard soldiers and airmen are conducting numerous state response missions, such as distributing food, managing supplies and logistics and supporting alternate care facilities.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. David Eichaker, Michigan Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200417-Z-LI010-006M
A Michigan National Guardsman performs a COVID-19 detection test.
Medical Services
Army Capt. Nicholas Buck, a medical operations officer and medical section leader with the Michigan Army National Guard's 51st Civil Support Team, performs a COVID-19 detection test at the Michigan Bureau of Laboratories, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as part of the Guard's COVID-19 pandemic response effort in Lansing Mich., April 17, 2020. More than 750 Michigan National Guard soldiers and airmen are conducting numerous state response missions, such as distributing food, managing supplies and logistics and supporting alternate care facilities.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. David Eichaker, Michigan Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200417-Z-LI010-004M

"All of our staff is working mandatory overtime right now," Riner said. "We're getting extra specimens processed, because we have that extra set of hands. It's nice to help us split the workload."

Others echoed and reflected on the relationship between the Guard and the lab.

"Evolution of this new relationship between Guard members and MDHHS lab is so unique and unprecedented," Dr. Sandip Shah, the director of the state public health laboratory, Bureau of Laboratories, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said. "It is not only admirable and mutually beneficial, but also serves as an example for other state laboratories in the nation when dealing with such a crisis."

A Michigan National Guardsman performs a COVID-19 detection test.
Medical Services
Army Capt. Nicholas Buck, a medical operations officer and medical section leader with the Michigan Army National Guard's 51st Civil Support Team, performs a COVID-19 detection test at the Michigan Bureau of Laboratories, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as part of the Guard's COVID-19 pandemic response effort in Lansing Mich., April 17, 2020. More than 750 Michigan National Guard soldiers and airmen are conducting numerous state response missions, such as distributing food, managing supplies and logistics and supporting alternate care facilities.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. David Eichaker, Michigan Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200417-Z-LI010-003M

The lab work is also beneficial to the guardsmen involved.

"I am very proud to be part of what we are doing," Buck said. "It is an honor to not only provide help to the lab, but realize decisions are being made on our results that positively impact the public." 

(Air Force Master Sgt. David Eichaker is assigned to the Michigan Air National Guard.)