VNG Soldiers, Airmen continue COVID-19 response support

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen continue to conduct COVID-19 response mission support across the commonwealth, providing key testing sample collection and personal protective equipment fit testing capabilities in support of the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Emergency Management. 

Approximately 85 Soldiers and Airmen began conducting response missions Sept. 8, 2020, after a week of training and preparation with VDH. Since then, the VNG response team has conducted nearly 12,000 testing sample collections over 130 individual missions, and fitted and trained more than 500 personnel for PPE, including N95 respirator mask fit testings and trainings.  

Previously, VNG personnel supported the state’s COVID-19 response from April through July, collecting nearly 106,000 testing samples, helping distribute nearly 1,350,000 pounds of food and providing more than 51,000 hours of planning augmentation to VDEM. 

“Most of the Soldiers and Airmen serving on the task force have been on the Guard’s COVID response mission since March,” said Lt. Col. Heath Phillips, commander of the task force. “The experience they have gained over the past several months has created efficient and effective teams that can respond to COVID hotspots across the commonwealth on short notice.”

The current COVID response task force is comprised of three sample collection strike teams with 15 Soldiers each. Those teams are collecting samples via point prevalence surveys as well as community-based testing events at locations determined by VDH. In addition, the task forces maintains two teams to conduct PPE test fittings and trainings. 

The strike teams, as well as the command and control cell and liaison and support personnel, are all conducting their missions while mitigating exposure risks. 

“The task force faces the same challenges as the rest of Virginia during this pandemic,” explained Phillips. “How do we maintain a safe and healthy workforce while operating in a potentially hazardous environment? By following a combination of the proper level of personal protective equipment, hygiene, and personal distancing standards we have been able to continue our mission without a decrease in operational capability.”

While the testing strike teams collect samples for COVID testing by VDH, the PPE teams are conducting N95 respirator mask test fittings for staff long term care and other facilities where there is a high exposure risk. They also conduct training for staff at the various facilities so they can conduct their own mask fit testings. 

Conducting response operations in conjunction with other state and private agencies is giving the Soldiers of the task force invaluable experience, according their commander. 

“For many of these Soldiers and Airmen, this is the first mission they have participated in that is not only a joint Army and Air mission, but includes other governmental and civilian agencies,” said Phillips. “We are working with the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, and localities across the Commonwealth. Being able to interact across agencies to integrate systems, procedures, and communications is a valuable skill that will serve these Soldiers and Airmen in the future.”

Localities looking for testing and training support should contact VDH directly for scheduling.