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167th Airlift Wing helps with voluntary COVID-19 mapping

Three members of the West Virginia National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing, from left, Capt. Rodney Brown, Staff Sgt. James Murray, and Staff Sgt. Erin Engle, are part of the COVID-19 contact tracing team at the Jefferson County Health Department, Martinsburg, W.Va., Aug. 20, 2020.

Three members of the West Virginia National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing, from left, Capt. Rodney Brown, Staff Sgt. James Murray, and Staff Sgt. Erin Engle, are part of the COVID-19 contact tracing team at the Jefferson County Health Department, Martinsburg, W.Va., Aug. 20, 2020.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. – Members of the 167th Airlift Wing continue to guide residents through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eight unit members are conducting voluntary COVID-19 mapping for the Berkeley and Jefferson County Health Departments. They are contacting people who have tested for the coronavirus and guiding them through quarantine protocol while collecting voluntarily-provided data.

“The lab will determine if the individual was positive or negative; once they are positive, then we start our process of contacting them within 24 hours,” says Capt. Rodney Brown, officer in charge of contact investigation for the Jefferson County Health Department and director of the 167th Airlift Wing’s Equal Opportunity office. “Affected individuals are not required to provide us any information; we do assure them that we are here to help.”

The health department asks those testing positive for COVID-19 to provide the names and contact information of people they have recently been around. The West Virginia National Guard is augmenting this initiative, led by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Research (WVDHHR).

“The regular duties of the health department are still carried out by the nurses who work here and the physicians,” said Staff Sgt. Erin Engle, contact investigator for the Jefferson County Health Department and an aerospace medical technician with the 167th Medical Group. “That’s why it’s so important to have additional personnel to help with the COVID-19 response because all of those things still needed to happen.”

The Airmen on this mission were trained by WVDHHR officials and nurse staff. They also had online training about protecting private health care information.

“We have to communicate both with patients that are COVID-19 positive and the nursing staff at the health department, and if you can speak both languages, that helps,” Engle said. “Being a licensed practical nurse and a medical technician makes communication with the health department more seamless.”

On a typical day, the health department nurses receive the positive cases, then transfer them to the contact investigators, who will then call to let the person know they tested positive for COVID-19. Next, they explain the quarantine procedure. They also collect information on who they’ve been around, where they’ve been, and what their occupation is to try to determine potential exposure.

“We stick to the script,” Brown said. “For instance, if there is a particular restaurant that several people have patronized within the last week, questions like this could lead the investigators to find a possible outbreak and warn others at risk.”

The Berkeley and Jefferson county teams have placed more than 6,000 calls in the contact tracing program.

“It’s a lot of data that we are trying to collect in a short amount of time,” said Brown. “We all have the common mission, the common goal, which is to educate the community and to combat the pandemic.”

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