Feature   Defense News

Washington State Guardsmen Build COVID-19 Test Kits

May 22, 2020 | BY Joseph Siemandel

Testing for COVID-19 was one of the pillars of Washington Gov. Jay R. Inslee's recovery plan for his state. Ensuring that test kits are readily available has been a team effort among professionals with the Department of Health, AmeriCorp and a dozen members of the Washington National Guard.

''Working with the Department of Health and AmeriCorp has been great. Our guys know how important this mission is and are excited to be here,'' said Army Maj. Jeff Rogers, a logistician and site leader for the Washington National Guard. ''This is all logistics and supply chain management, so being a logistician working this mission is right in my wheelhouse.''

A guardsman assembles a COVID-19 test kit.
Kit Assembly
Army Sgt. Kevin Probst, assigned to the Washington Army National Guard’s 1041st Transportation Company, puts an instruction sheet into a COVID-19 test kit at the Department of Health warehouse in Tumwater, Wash., May 14, 2020.
Photo By: Joseph Siemandel, Washington National Guard
VIRIN: 200514-D-MN117-643

Rogers, who recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan, got the call to be the site leader at the end of April and knew how important this mission would be.

''I'm super pumped to be on this mission and glad to do our part,'' Rogers said. ''This mission is about getting the right supplies to the right place at the right time to get the right results and hopefully give everyone peace of mind.''

Rogers' team of 12 works side by side with a dozen AmeriCorp volunteers. The volunteers put the sterile test kit components together, then pass them to the guardsmen who put the instructions and the sterile test kit into an outer biohazard bag. The assembled kits are then packaged  into boxes for shipping out to the counties.

A guardsman assembles a COVID-19 test kit.
COVID Test Kit
Army Sgt. Mario Perez, assigned to the Washington Army National Guard’s 1041st Transportation Company, puts together a COVID-19 test kit at the Department of Health warehouse in Tumwater, Wash., May 14, 2020.
Photo By: Joseph Siemandel, Washington National Guard
VIRIN: 200514-D-MN117-381

''A lot of quality control is happening to ensure that the test kits are properly created, packaged, shipped and tracked,'' Rogers said. ''Making sure everything is sterile is critical. When new components come in for the test kits, they undergo a sterilization test to ensure the products are safe to use and will give an accurate test reading.''

The guardsmen know the importance of what they are doing. They continually build kits until the supplies run out. As of May 14, the group had assembled 28,306 kits that are able to test 141,530 individuals.

''I never expected I would do this when I joined, but that's what is cool about being in the Guard,'' said Army Sgt. Mario Perez, a motor transportation operator with the Washington Army National Guard's 1041st Transportation Company. ''You are doing things you haven't done before to help out your state. It's awesome to be able to help out.''

An instruction pamphlet for the COVID-19 test kits.
Instruction Pamphlet
An instruction pamphlet for the COVID-19 test kits.
Photo By: Joseph Siemandel, Washington National Guard
VIRIN: 200514-D-MN117-766

Perez, whose day job is working as a security officer at the Port of Tacoma, had supported the COVID-19 response at multiple community-based test sites prior to building the test kits.

''It was a good job working at the test sites. People would come in scared, not knowing what to expect, and we were able to calm them down,'' Perez said.

(Joseph Siemandel is assigned to the Joint Forces Headquarters, Washington National Guard.)