SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – The Michigan National Guard is sweeping across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.), helping test people for COVID-19 at long-term care facilities and prisons.
“The Michigan Army and Air National Guard have been asked by the state to support the Michigan State Police (MSP) and Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) in facilitating testing of inmates at designated correctional facilities to ensure the health and welfare of vulnerable populations,” said Army Capt. Michael Anderson, 107th Engineer Battalion, Michigan Army National Guard. “In just a couple of weeks, we have tested more than 7,300 inmates at six different correctional facilities.”
The Air and Army Guard members, known as Task Force Tiger, have been working with the governor’s office to complete the COVID-19 testing requirements established for high-risk facilities.
“The prisons are close-quarter facilities that we have concerns about along with our long-term care facilities,” said Army Col. Chris McKinney, brigade commander, 177th Military Police Brigade, Michigan Army National Guard. “We’re working through the Upper Peninsula to try to make sure we test as many inmates as possible to be able to make sure that they are healthy and safe.”
Chippewa Correctional Facility near Sault Ste. Marie experienced the National Guard’s presence firsthand.
“By partnering with the National Guard, we have this opportunity to test more than 2,300 prisoners here within our population,” said Warden Connie Horton. “This is a huge undertaking, and with the assistance of the National Guard, we were able to accomplish this in just one day.”
“Even though this is our first mission with the National Guard, we worked very well together and it’s been a very smooth transition from the moment the Guard members arrived,” said Horton.
Only specific Guard members are trained to conduct the test, while others “are assisting with sanitizing equipment, administrative tracking, and the distribution of personal protective equipment,” Anderson said.
Guard members also trained others how to conduct testing.
“Our unit facilitated training, testing and administering COVID-19 tests to select long-term care facilities to ensure the health and welfare of vulnerable populations,” said Anderson. “We also provided the necessary training to key staff for future testing of their residents.”
Members of the Guard helped out at the D. J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette.
“We would have to take staff away from their mission of serving our members to conduct the testing for our staff,” said Ron Oja, administrator at the home. “It serves a terrific purpose to have the Guard here that is familiar with the process.”
The support from the Guard hasn’t gone unappreciated.
“We wouldn’t be able to do a mission this large, on this scale, without their assistance,” said Horton. “We’re very fortunate to have the National Guard here and very blessed.”