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New Patient Transport System Supports COVID-19 Fight

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Travis Air Force Base in California has a new isolated containment chamber that can safely transport infectious disease patients — including those with novel coronavirus — on board an aircraft.

Called a negatively pressurized conex, the chamber can accommodate up to 24 ambulatory patients or eight on stretchers. It's the third one of its kind; the other two are at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, and Ramstein Air Base, Germany. 

Earlier this year, the Defense Department and the Air Force developed and procured the NPC after the U.S. Transportation Command published a joint urgent operational need statement for the transportation of COVID-19 patients.

Airmen push a negatiely pressurized conex into a C-17 Globemaster III.
Airmen Aid
Airmen assigned to the 60th Aerial Port and 21st Airlift Squadrons push a negatively pressurized conex into a C-17 Globemaster III at Travis Air Force Base, Calif, Aug. 5, 2020. The NPC is certified for use on the C-17 with testing and certification underway for the C-5M Super Galaxy.
Photo By: Lan Kim, Air Force
VIRIN: 200805-F-SK304-0048M

An NPC program manager and deputy program manager from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Systems Branch were on hand to inspect the conex when it arrived at Travis Air Force Base on Aug. 5. They also oversaw the transfer of the NPC from Delta Flight Products in Atlanta, Georgia, where it was manufactured, to the cargo bay of a Globemaster III staged to support alert aeromedical evacuation missions.

"We were with the NPC as it was being produced," Air Force Capt. Alexis Todaro, AFLCMC/WNU NPC program manager, said. "We did both inspections, as well as functional checks, to make sure the asset was performing and everything was included as contracted. We followed it to Travis and made sure the offload went smoothly. Next, we'll work with the aeromedical team that is here training and go over a few of the features they may or may not be familiar with."

The first operational use of an NPC took place July 1 when 12 patients were moved from the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Since then, it has undergone additional testing and received user feedback, Todaro said.

Compared to its predecessors, the NPC has notably bigger doors and windows to allow for better visual communication, as well as seats with increased safety factor ratings, Todaro said.

The new system will amplify Travis Air Force Base's transportation capabilities for patients with infectious diseases, which consists of eight transport isolation systems.

The transport isolation systems, which have been the primary means for the Air Force to transport COVID-19 patients, is only capable of transporting up to four patients.

Airmen use a crane to load a negatively pressurized conex onto an awaiting vehicle.
Airmen Work
Airmen assigned to the 60th Aerial Port Squadron use a 35-ton bridge crane to load a negatively pressurized conex onto a Tunner 60k loader at Travis Air Force Base, Calif, Aug. 5, 2020. The NPC is an isolated containment chamber designed to safely transport up to 30 passengers -- including 24 walking patients or eight patients on stretchers -- affected by infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
Photo By: Lan Kim, Air Force
VIRIN: 200805-F-SK304-0032M

By contrast, the NPC has the ability to transport up to 30 aircraft passengers in multiple configurations to accommodate combinations of ambulatory and litter patients as dictated by the mission, Air Force 1st Lt. Donald Wiegner, AFLCMC/WNU NPC deputy program manager, said.

Due to its capacity, the NPC will become the primary transport option for COVID-19 patients within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command's area of responsibility, Todaro said.

"The Indo-Pacific fight against COVID-19 hot spots is constantly changing throughout AORs," Wiegner said. "With the limited NPC assets available at this time, it is a strategic advantage to posture at Travis AFB as a central logistical hub for NPCs to run missions throughout the Indo-Pacific, as needed, to evacuate soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen so they can get the medical care they need."

As of Aug. 7, AMC's NPC and TIS bio-containment units have transported 190 patients on 30 separate aeromedical evacuation missions since the first operational use of the TIS on April 10.

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