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Virginia National Guard Helps Expand Testing Capacity

National Guardsman spraying disinfectant on gloved persons hand
The Virginia National Guard is currently providing about 15 percent of the state's testing capacity. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

The Virginia National Guard is conducting about 15 percent of the coronavirus testing for the state. Soldiers and airmen have been on the ground performing nasal swab tests for about two weeks, after receiving a two-day training session from the Virginia Department of Health, which began on April 20.

Their teams are mainly working in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes, which account for more than half of the outbreaks in Virginia. They respond to facilities as directed by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, and the goal is to test everyone in each setting: whether it’s a nursing home, correctional facility, or business.

“We're not forcing anybody to do anything,” said Andrew Czaplicki, deputy commander of the Richmond-based 34th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package. “But the intent is to get as many people in that facility as possible to get that good population and that good data representation.”

There are six teams on the ground in Virginia. Technically, they’re called strike teams, which is a FEMA term, according to Czaplicki. “You take multiple functions, and you mash them together and create one multifunction team,” Czaplicki said.

Each strike team has 17-19 soldiers and airmen on it. Each team member has a specific role. For example, one person is in charge of equipment and supplies as well as communication with team members inside; they sit outside with a radio and laptop to report out what they learn.

“And they provide the real time data,” Czaplicki said. “So how many people we tested, how many people are left to test, how many test kits are available...”

Inside there’s a medic or two, overseeing four testing teams, known as point prevalence sampling teams, embedded within the strike team. Each sampling team has three people: one person is responsible for inserting the nasal swab into someone’s nose, while someone else holds the supplies. The third person has a radio and is communicating out data.

Another person is responsible for decontaminating after it’s all done. “And that person is responsible for pretty much washing the person down head to toe once they leave the facility,” Czaplicki said.  “So the person leaves a facility in their whole personal protective ensemble. They get a good whitewash and that prevents any kind of germs, viruses that they picked up, maybe, inside the facility from leaving the facility.”

In the Richmond area, Czaplicki said they’d tested everyone in about 10 long-term care facilities as of Monday. And while the teams are based in Richmond, they’re traveling across the state to do testing as needed. He says localities or facilities in need of testing assistance should contact the state department of emergency management. 

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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