NEW YORK – Between Oct. 16 and April 1, New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen collected health information from travelers more than 3 million times.
The mission began when Gov. Andrew Mr. Cuomo announced quarantine policies for travelers entering New York. It ended when the quarantine policy was dropped.
State officials had already been collecting health information at airports. National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were added to the mix as the program expanded at more airports.
The quarantine policies, requiring travelers entering New York to quarantine for up to 14 days, asked air travelers to answer questions about their health on a paper form or electronically.
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen supported the New York State Department of Health by collecting the paper forms or looking at traveler’s cell phones to make sure they had answered an online questionnaire.
By the time the mission ended, an average of 360 personnel had served daily at 12 airports across the state.
These ranged from New York City’s JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport – with 185 and 143 flights daily, respectively — to Ithaca-Tompkins International Airport in the Finger Lakes with six flights daily.
At the major airports in New York City, Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany, Guardsmen were on duty around the clock. At smaller locations like Ithaca, Plattsburgh, and Elmira the collection points were staffed only when flights from outside New York were expected.
The National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were an important part of the team, said Sharon McClain, an executive assistant for the New York State Department of Health, who was in charge of collection operations at JFK.
“The most challenging part was that some people didn’t think they had to complete the form because they were essential or city workers,” said Spc. Enda Wang, a member of the 187th Signal Company. ”We had to explain the importance of the form and that the information really does help contain the virus.”
The forms asked travelers for their destination in New York, how many people were traveling with them, contact information, when they last took a COVID-19 test, if they were a New York resident, where they were coming from and their purpose for travel. Essential travelers did not have to quarantine in some instances.
During the 168-day mission, Guard personnel collected 1,765,800 paper health data forms and checked 1,308,248 paperless e-forms for a total of 3,074,048.
Soldiers and Airmen who collected the data will now work at vaccine sites as the New York National Guard response shifts priorities.
“The biggest challenge was to make people feel secure about doing the health form and contact tracing,” said Sgt. Moses Vital, a member of the 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters who worked as the noncommissioned officer in charge at JFK’s Terminal 5.
“We couldn’t give fines or enforce compliance, but we strongly urged people to fill them out,” he added.