VNG continues COVID-19 response support across Virginia

Virginia National Guard Soldiers staff a call center supporting the Virginia Department of Health to inform patients of their of negative COVID-19 test results. (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia National Guard is continuing its effort to support the Commonwealth of Virginia’s COVID-19 response, with more than 350 personnel actively assisting or ready to support throughout the state as of July 1, 2020.  Soldiers, Airmen and members of the Virginia Defense Force are supporting various missions including sample collection for COVID-19 testing, N95 respirator mask fit testing, test kit transportation, food bank support, material handling and planning in multiple Virginia Department of Emergency Management regions. 

“The Virginia National Guard is still very much in the COVID-19 fight, and we continue to provide important capabilities our partners need to help support the multi-agency statewide response,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “I am incredibly proud of tremendous effort from our Soldiers, Airmen and Virginia Defense Force personnel, and I thank everyone for their dedication in helping their fellow Virginians. Our uniformed personnel can’t accomplish their missions without the ongoing support from their families and employers, and I appreciate their important contribution to the mission.”

In addition to the testing and logistics support, VNG personnel are now supporting two different call center operations. Five Soldiers are helping the Virginia Department of Health call center call patients to inform them of negative COVID-19 test results, as well as making calls in support of a VDH initiative to survey long-term care facilities’ need for COVID-19 testing need. As of June 30, those Soldiers have made more than 3,000 calls in support of these efforts since they started June 16. 

Another call center is being operated at S. Gardner Waller Depot in Richmond, Virginia, with members of the Richmond-based 34th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package assisting VDH and regional health district testing coordinators. There, the CERFP has contacted nearly 400 skilled nursing and alternate care facilities, of which they’ve been able to schedule 245 facilities for testing.

“Our call center operators work closely with the facility administrators and directors to request the test kits, schedule the laboratory times and coordinate for the Va. National Guard to collect and transport samples,” said Maj. Andrew J. Czaplicki, the 34th CERFP’s deputy commander. “This is an amazing effort because it aggressively connects the most at-risk members of Virginia with the resources that their facility needs to make the best medical decisions in regards to their continued health and well-being.”

To date, Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have collected more than 63,000 samples for COVID-19 testing. They have also performed more than 3,000 N95 respirator mask fit tests, distributed more than 500,000 pounds of food, driven more than 140,000 miles supporting supply and delivery missions and performed more than 45,000 planning hours in support of VDEM efforts. They’ve supported a total of 11 state agencies and county-level emergency operations centers. 

Virginia’s emergency declaration on March 12, 2020, activated the VNG and authorized personnel to begin coming on duty to support COVID-19 response operations. Personnel immediately began assisting with operations, logistics and medical planning with the Virginia Emergency Support Team and in multiple VDEM regions across the state, and those planning efforts continue.

VNG Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the 34th CERFP have extensive experience with the proper employment of PPE and operations involving hazardous materials and health protection protocols. They received training to be able to assist with teaching personnel on the proper employment of PPE as well as how to take samples for COVID-19 tests when provided with kits. Personnel have been conducting training and collecting samples at multiple locations across the state including long-term care and correction facilities.

Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen conduct sample collection for COVID-19 testing July 30, 2020, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Virginia Defense Force photo by Warrant Officer 1 (Va.) Jake Crocker)

VNG Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team have also joined the CERFP in conducting community and drive-thru sample collection and mask fit testing at multiple locations across the state.

VNG Soldiers assigned to the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group are providing mission command for numerous operations all over the state including mobile testing site support in Blacksburg, logistics planning to VDEM, general material handling operations in VDEM Regions 1 through 7, food bank support in the Fredericksburg area, courier service support for COVID-19 testing and N95 mask fit testing operations.

VNG Soldiers teamed up with the Virginia Wing of the Civil Air Patrol in order use CAP air transportation capabilities to increase the capacity for sending kits to testing sites and delivering completed tests to labs for evaluation. Read more about the VDF’s efforts here (https://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2020/06/18/15278/

VNG Soldiers assigned to the Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team began supporting the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank April 22, 2020, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Soldiers are assisting with preparing food boxes in the warehouse, as well as helping with food distribution and supply deliveries. In addition to supporting operations at the main warehouse, the 229th has also supported pop-up food distributions at various locations in Central and Northern Virginia in support of the food bank’s community parters. During the pop-up distributions, Soldiers set up and staff a drive-thru for citizens need. 

VNG Soldiers assigned to the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team began supporting mobile testing sites March 30, 2020, in the New River Valley and Roanoke areas. They have been providing logistical support to the Montgomery County Public Health Task Force’s Mobile COVID-19 testing site in Blacksburg and supporting the Virginia Department of Emergency Management Region 6 coordination center with planning support and PPE distribution to local and regional authorities. The Soldiers provided daily support at the testing location while maintaining CDC-recommended safety precautions including social distancing and also assisted with warehouse operations in the area. Soldiers have also assisted with operations at food banks and pantries in the area.

Members of the Virginia Defense Force are providing staff augmentation to the VNG and VDEM sections including the situation awareness unit as well as public information support.