SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –
In a warehouse-sized dock at the back of the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah National Guard Soldiers and Airmen drive forklifts, stack cardboard boxes full of face masks, and siphon hand sanitizer out of 55-gallon steel drums into shampoo bottles. In just a few weeks, the Salt Palace transformed from a convention center into a buzzing hub for receiving, staging and shipping personal protective equipment for hospitals and small businesses across the state of Utah. As of May 14, 2020, the Utah National Guard has packaged 487,419 items of PPE, and delivered 45,066 packages to 3,601 businesses across Utah.
“We’re working together to protect the people of Utah,” said Russ Pierson, Utah Department of Health's Strategic National Stockpile Coordinator.
As the acting manager of receiving, staging and shipping, it’s Pierson’s job to make sure PPE keeps moving out the door, with the help of the Guard, he explained.
“The Guard has been a huge asset to us,” Pierson said. “I mean, we couldn’t ask for anyone better. They have the experience, discipline and manpower to do what we need to do.”
According to Pierson, Utah was supposed to receive personal protective equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile, but because of the H1N1 Flu outbreak in 2009, the stockpile had already been significantly depleted.
“We brought in about 10 or 15 loads from the stockpile, and that was it,” Pierson said. “So the rest of it was donated or purchased by the state of Utah.”
The donated and purchased PPE started to arrive at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City by truckloads. On May 5, 2020, Governor Gary R. Herbert announced the launch of the “PPE Push Pack” program to support small businesses in the transition to “moderate risk” COVID-19 protocols. According to the official press release, the program provided a free, one-week supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to sole proprietors and businesses with less than 50 employees across the state. By May 6, 2020, boxes were starting to pile up at the Salt Palace.
Members of the Utah National Guard were activated to assist with the PPE Push Pack initiative.
“I was called on Wednesday,” said Capt. Jessica Delph, RSS Warehouse Mission officer in charge. “They asked, ‘can you be here tomorrow?’ Because they had thousands of boxes of PPE on backorder.”
Delph currently oversees more than thirty Soldiers and Airmen from the Utah National Guard who have been working on a rotational basis to provide the manpower necessary to keep PPE products flowing in and out of the Salt Palace warehouse.
“What’s great about this mission is not only are we helping to facilitate health standards for local businesses, but we’re also helping to reopen the economy,” Delph said.
Like many of the Soldiers and Airmen working the RSS Warehouse Mission, Delph also has a civilian job waiting to reopen.
“This is why I joined the Guard; to help my community,” she said. “I know a lot of my Soldiers feel the same way. They come here every day and work hard because they believe in what we’re doing, helping to protect health workers, essential employees, and local businesses on the front lines.”
The Utah National Guard will continue to receive, stage and ship items of PPE to businesses across the state.