ABERDEEN, Wash. – As COVID-19 testing capability grows, Washington National Guard members are answering the call for help in the rural area of Grays Harbor County.
Wearing full face masks, suits, gloves and boots, 27 Washington Air and Army Guard members are working at a community-based testing site (CBTS) helping residents of Grays Harbor, which includes Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Montesano and other small towns along the Washington coast.
The Washington Guard answered the call for help from Grays Harbor Emergency Management. The rural county needed to expand testing because of limited capability at the hospital in Aberdeen, said Leonard Johnson, incident commander for the Grays Harbor Public Health Department.
Setting up the testing site was seamless as most of the Guard members worked at the Yakima CBTS the previous week, according to 1st Lt. Daniel Baba, officer in charge of the test site. Baba is assigned to the 176th Engineer Company based at the Snohomish Armory and, as a civilian, works as a civil engineer for a consulting firm in Everett.
The testing process is straightforward. If a citizen shows any COVID-19 symptoms, they can call the triage line to schedule a test. At the scheduled time, they drive up in their car and are directed to various stations in the “hot zone.”
In this zone, all test site workers must don appropriate personal protective equipment and strict protocols are followed to ensure everyone stays safe while assisting patients. They work in two-hour shifts, with no food or water while in the PPE. After their shift is complete, Guard members go through a thorough decontamination process.
Although the chemical and decontamination process is arduous, Baba said it was an opportunity to put their practice to work.
“It’s awesome to use our training in the real world,” said Baba. “You can see the big picture here but also see how it’s helping the local community.”
Senior Airman Ryley Glick, a security forces fire team member with the 141st Security Forces Squadron, is part of the administrative team on site and sees how the Guard is helping in the community.
“There are only so many resources here in the area, so every person counts in this operation, from the medics who test, to the people who do traffic enforcement, to those in administration,” Glick said. “We’re lending extra hands to those who need it.”