RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are continuing to provide COVID-19 pandemic response support to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Health as 2020 draws to a close. Support will also continue into the new year after federal funding was extended for COVID-19 response through March 2021.
“We are glad to see the extension of federal funding for our COVID support here in the commonwealth,” said Col. Todd H. Hubbard, the VNG J3 Operations Director. “Our Soldiers and Airmen are providing testing and other support to the Department of Health’s overall plans. This is an important part of the overall COVID mitigation strategy.”
Approximately 120 Soldiers and Airmen are currently providing support, including COVID-19 testing sample collection and personal protective equipment fit testing and training. VNG COVID-19 response missions initially began in April 2020, and since that time, personnel have collected more than 137,000 sample collections at sites across the commonwealth. They’ve also fitted more than 4,000 personnel from various organizations for N95 respirator masks, and trained hundreds more to conduct fit testings for their own organizations.
Missions from April though July 2020 included providing support to food banks across the state, helping distribute nearly 1,350,000 pounds of food. VNG personnel also provided more than 51,000 hours in planning augmentation to VDEM.
The current COVID-19 response task force is comprised of 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 force maintains two teams to conduct PPE test fittings and trainings, focusing on staff at 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.
“I am exceedingly proud of the work these Soldiers and Airmen have done since beginning this mission in September,” said Lt. Col. Heath Phillips, the task force’s commander. “In the true tradition of the National Guard, they have temporarily put their civilian lives aside to respond to the needs of the commonwealth. They have proven themselves to be an invaluable asset while working with other Virginia agencies during this pandemic.”
While some of the sample collection missions were conducted at long-term care facilities and correctional facilities, others were conducted in support of community-based testing events, including drive-thru and walk-up clinics open to the public. At one event, VNG Soldiers and Airmen helped test 500 students and faculty at Randolph-Macon College ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I want to express my deepest gratitude to the dedicated Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who supported the COVID testing event on our campus for our faculty, staff and students,” says Randolph-Macon College President Robert R. Lindgren. “I have heard many accolades and expressions of appreciation from our campus community referencing the flawless organization of this event and how they were made to feel at ease during this process.
“At a time when testing is critical in helping to manage this pandemic, we are most fortunate for and proud of this meaningful partnership,” added Lindgren. “I would like to offer special thanks to Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams and Brig. Gen. James Ring for attending to show support for their members and those representing Randolph-Macon. We wish each of the outstanding individuals in the VAANG continued health and safety in the days and months ahead in their efforts to protect our community.”
The Soldiers and Airmen of the task force have adapted to these new missions remarkable well, Phillips said.
“The role of the National Guard has expanded over the last two decades. Many of the Soldiers and Airmen on the task force have served overseas during multiple deployments. This mission is different,” Phillips explained. “This task force has a direct role in the efforts to reduce the spread of a pandemic that has claimed the lives of so many of our fellow Virginians. The knowledge that our efforts may have a direct impact on slowing the progress of this virus, and saving lives, is impactful.”
Localities looking for testing and training support should contact VDH directly for scheduling.