RICHMOND, Va. — Approximately 120 Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s COVID-19 testing task force are continuing operations in support of the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, even as their mission evolves to include support to vaccination clinics run by local health departments across the commonwealth.
Beginning in mid-January, one of the task force’s testing strike teams adjusted their mission for support of point-of-distribution vaccine clinic support at locations across Virginia. Support at these POD sites includes logistics and administrative support, including helping direct patients as they park and navigate the clinics, and assisting with the registration process.
“The vaccination assistance teams are currently working in Roanoke, Charlottesville, and Fredericksburg,” said Lt. Col. Heath Phillips, the task force’s commander. “To date, those three sites have administered over 25,000 inoculations.”
For the Soldiers assigned to support the vaccinations sites, it’s an extremely rewarding part of their duty.
“We started as a COVID testing team, and when we got tasked with starting up the POD vaccination team, we took the mission and we ran with it. It’s been very exciting and very rewarding,” said Capt. John Partin, officer in charge of the vaccine support team. “When we get to know we’re having a positive impact on not just the community but the commonwealth as a whole, it’s really rewarding and makes us feel like we’re doing our part.”
“We feel like we’re giving back to the community, helping out our friends and neighbors, making sure they’re all healthy and safe,” added Sgt. Cole Tison, assigned to help support a clinic in Charlottesville, Virginia. “That’s our main thing - we just want to see everyone good to go and safe.”
Phillips’ task force also had to adjust their mission as VNG began supporting law enforcement operations in Washington, D.C. ahead of Inauguration Day. The task force helped conduct COVID testing for Soldiers and Airmen called to duty in the nation’s capital at a moment’s notice.
“The D.C. mission had a very short suspense. Soldiers being called to active duty required PCR testing and the test results within 48 hours so they could safely assume their mission,” explained Phillips. “The task force sent teams to the National Captial Region and to Fort Pickett to support the activation.”
While the task force quickly adjusted to their new missions, their original mission of COVID-19 testing sample collection and personal protective equipment fitting and training continued uninterrupted. Since COVID response operations began in April 2020, VNG personnel have collected more than 160,000 samples for testing, and have conducted thousands of N95 respirator mask fit testings.
“Each test conducted has the potential to protect the citizens of Virginia from the spread of this virus,” said Phillips. “We have conducted testing in assisted living centers, nursing homes, mental health facilities, colleges, hospitals, and public events all across the state. The endurance, professionalism, and dedication that these soldiers and airmen have shown is exemplary.”
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.
Localities looking for testing and training support should contact VDH directly for scheduling.