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Guardsmen Conduct COVID-19 Testing at Massachusetts Nursing Homes

April 13, 2020 | BY AIR FORCE CAPT. BONNIE BLAKELY

Soldiers and airmen from the Massachusetts National Guard have been working together to complete mobile COVID-19 testing on patients at nursing homes throughout the commonwealth.


As of April 11, more than 3,000 swab tests had been completed. The testing began March 31, and the mission is still ongoing.

''Our personnel are highly trained in the areas of patient care and sample collection, which has been pivotal to the success of this mission,'' said Air Force 1st Lt. Derek May, medical plans and operations officer for Region I Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Task Force.

A service member checks another service member’s protective hood.
Protective Gear
Soldiers and airmen from the Massachusetts National Guard don proper personal protective equipment in preparation to complete COVID-19 testing on residents at the Milford Center in Milford, Mass., April 10, 2020. Twelve medical teams are activated throughout the state and are conducting COVID-19 testing at medical facilities and nursing homes with high-risk populations. Homes and providers are identified by the Department of Public Health and Human Services for testing. This mission is one of several operations across the commonwealth in support of coronavirus response efforts.
Photo By: Air Force Capt. Bonnie Blakely, Massachusetts Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200410-Z-FV422-0018


Twelve medical teams are activated throughout the state underneath Task Force CBRN Medical Support Element and have been assisting medical facilities and nursing homes with high-risk populations.

The residents at these facilities are unable to do drive-through testing or go to local urgent care centers. Bringing this capability directly to the residents helps facilities identify positive COVID-19 patients, which allows them to then apply increased safety procedures to help slow and stop the spread of the coronavirus, May said.

''When the patients see military personnel, it gives them comfort,'' said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joseph Startup, 102nd Medical Group clinical supervisor. ''They know we are out here to keep our community and our citizens safe during this time.''

Two service members wearing personal protective equipment talk as they stand by a cart bearing a blue cooler and medical equipment.
COVID-19 Testing
Soldiers and Airmen from the Massachusetts National Guard don proper personal protective equipment in preparation to complete COVID-19 testing on residents at the Milford Center in Milford, Mass., April 10, 2020. Twelve medical teams are activated throughout the state and are conducting COVID-19 testing at medical facilities and nursing homes with high-risk populations. Homes and providers are identified by the Department of Public Health and Human Services for testing. This mission is one of several operations across the commonwealth in support of coronavirus response efforts.
Photo By: Air Force Capt. Bonnie Blakely, Massachusetts Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200410-Z-FV422-0011


Nursing homes and providers are identified by the Department of Public Health and Human Services for testing each morning and given to the medical teams. Each team typically visits three or four locations a day, resulting in an average of more than 300 total tests per day. The swabs are packaged in a cooler and delivered to DPH at the end of each day, Startup said.

Testing teams have six to nine guard members composed of medics, CBRN decontamination personnel and a noncommissioned officer in charge who oversees the team. Airmen and soldiers are spread throughout each team and are conducting missions jointly.

''Integrating with our sister service partners in the Army has been seamless,'' May said. ''From Day One, all of the soldiers and airmen have banded together to provide the same level of service to the commonwealth's citizens.''

Service members don personal protective equipment.
Personal Protective Equipment
Soldiers and Airmen from the Massachusetts National Guard don proper personal protective equipment in preparation to complete COVID-19 testing on residents at the Alliance at West Acres nursing home, Brockton, Mass., April 10, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Capt. Bonnie Blakely, Massachusetts Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200410-Z-FV422-0038


Some of the soldiers supporting this mission are from infantry and artillery units. They received extensive training on how to wear the required protective equipment and properly conduct a swab test. All testing team members are monitored by a medical team leader who ensures the tests are done accurately and that everyone is staying safe.

''It's really a huge, successful display of teamwork,'' said Army Maj. Ryan Lee, a dental officer providing medical supervision and quality control. ''It’s an incredible sight to see infantry and field artillery soldiers who are trained [to administer COVID-19 tests] step outside of their military occupational specialty to answer the call.''

Service members wearing personal protective equipment pose in front of a nursing home holding a sign that reads, “#In This Together.”
#InThisTogether Banner
Soldiers and airmen from the Massachusetts National Guard gather together prior to completing COVID-19 testing on residents at the Alliance at West Acres nursing home in Brockton, Mass., April 10, 2020. Twelve medical teams are activated throughout the state and are conducting COVID-19 testing at medical facilities and nursing homes with high-risk populations.
Photo By: Air Force Capt. Bonnie Blakely, Massachusetts Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200410-Z-FV422-0062


After the testing is completed inside each facility, everyone on the team goes through a detailed decontamination process, which includes safely removing the personal protective equipment and being sprayed with chemicals to remove any possible contaminants that they may have come in contact with.

''Being able to come out here as a medic as we're all helping the community is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done,'' said Army Spc. Albert Richards, medical team leader. ''Seeing the general impact and the sighs of relief from the nurses when we’re in and out of their facilities and helping them, … it’s amazing.''

This mission is one of several National Guard operations across the commonwealth in support of coronavirus response efforts.

(Air Force Capt. Bonnie Blakely is assigned to the Massachusetts Air National Guard.)