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Michigan National Guard helps test food workers for COVID-19

A physician’s assistant with the Michigan Air National Guard gives an Ottawa County resident a COVID-19 test in Holland, Mich., Aug. 16, 2020.

A physician’s assistant with the Michigan Air National Guard gives an Ottawa County resident a COVID-19 test in Holland, Mich., Aug. 16, 2020.

HOLLAND, Mich. – Protecting all Michigan residents, including seasonal food workers, is a tall order. The Michigan National Guard is helping.

At the beginning of August, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services put out an emergency order requiring all agricultural and food processing workers who are living in migrant housing camps be tested for COVID-19 within 48 hours of entering the state.

“The men and women who work in our fields and food processing plants are at particular risk for COVID-19, and they need and deserve protection,” said Robert Gordon the MDHHS director. “Today’s order will help to reduce the spread of COVID in communities across Michigan and reduce the pandemic’s disparate impact on Latinos.”

The Michigan National Guard is assisting the health department with this order. Guard members were in Holland Aug. 16, testing any resident. Many members of the migrant population were tested.

Sgt. Maj. Santos Feliciano, the Army noncommissioned officer in charge of the Task Force, was there to provide translation services for Spanish-speaking residents.

“We do have a large migrant population as well in our community, because of our influx of migrant workers during the summer and fall months. So having somebody who does speak Spanish is important because it gives them access, too,” said Heather Alberda of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.

The National Guard provided 23 Airmen from Task Force 182 to administer the free tests to Ottawa County inhabitants. The Airmen also helped the health department collect contact information from all who took the test so they can be alerted if they are positive for COVID-19.

“I think it’s wonderful. It’s a great collaboration between the Guard and local county health departments, to provide these services for free to those in our community,” said Alberda.

Michigan has a Latino population of about 5 percent, but that population represents 11 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases. Within Ottawa County, 31 percent of all COVID-19 cases are from those who identify as Latino.

“The request to have somebody come in as a translator is important,” said Alberda. “That way we’re giving the opportunity to everyone to come in and get tested and to have access to the COVID-19 testing. In this particular part of Holland, we do have a large Spanish-speaking population, and so we are trying to meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

Feliciano, who is from Puerto Rico, has had other opportunities to use his bilingual skills during his military career. He said he used it more when he was in the Florida National Guard and would assist after hurricanes.

“I think it’s great; if I have a tool, something they could use, I don’t mind using my bilingual skills to help out any community, that’s what we do in the Michigan National Guard, help the community,” said Feliciano.

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