Protecting the Force

By Spc. Bryton Bluth | 128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment | June 9, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah —

The Utah National Guard’s Mobile Testing Team administered nasopharyngeal swabs, testing Soldiers and Airmen for COVID-19 who had responded to civil unrest in Salt Lake City, June 7, 2020. The testing took place at the North Salt Lake National Guard Armory where more than 700 Army and Air National Guardsmen were tested after returning from the state capitol.

Soldiers were activated to Salt Lake City to support civil authorities in protecting life, preserving property and restoring peace. Due to the ongoing pandemic, and the nature of the protests, Soldiers were tested for COVID-19 due to increased exposure to residents and citizens of Salt Lake County. Increased exposure to troops did not alter the mission of the MTT, rather it sharpened the focus of the team.

 “It (the mission) hasn't changed,”  said Tech. Sgt. Erik Bornemier, a member of the 151st Medical Group, Utah Air National Guard, who serves as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the MTT.

“With the protests, it brings a lot of people that might be exposed all together in one footprint. What it does, is it potentially exposes our troops.”

The MTT is a team composed of healthcare professionals and Utah National Guard volunteers. They arrived from the North Salt Lake Armory to collect nasopharyngeal samples from all of the Soldiers by using a flocked swab. The flocked swab is a three-inch-long cotton swab which is  sent through the nasal cavity until it reaches the nasopharynx between the nose and throat. It is then held in place for 20 seconds, twisted and then removed to provide a sample for testing. 

“Our goal here is to test our troops and to make sure they are kept safe and healthy,” said Bornemier.

 “If we do have people who test positive for COVID-19, it gives us knowledge and ability to take action and make sure they’re protected and their family is protected.”

“After conducting more than 15,000 tests [in Utah], we haven’t had one tester test positive for COVID-19, which is very significant,” Bornemeier continued.

As Utah progresses through this pandemic, the partnership between organizations is vital if the state is to eventually move into a new normal and begin to manage this disease like other illnesses such as influenza.

“It’s not going to go away,” said Kelly Carnahan, Emergency Manager with the Public Health Laboratory and lead for the MTT. “COVID-19 is going to exist at least through this fall when we have another flu season.”

Having these lessons learned, putting together teams and coming up with a real-world plan of action that can be used in the future will help Utah, especially because the Department of Health doesn't have a lot of field operations, according to Carnahan.

“Joining forces with the Utah Department of Health and Utah National Guard expanded the reach and ability to test across the entire state,” Carnahan said.

“It’s actually heartwarming to me to see that we can do this and actually help people, and figure out what we can do to mitigate the problems, and save lives,” she continued.

As the fight with COVID-19 continues, the MTT will take strides in prevention and testing with the help of the Utah National Guard and other state partners, working alongside each other and finding their footing, according to Bornemier.

“We are learning alongside each other,” he said.

“We are able to be more offensive, we are able to act, as opposed to reacting and being acted upon. Because of the MTT’s efforts, the Soldiers who were on the frontlines can not only help protect themselves and their families, but also help provide safety for demonstrators should they meet again.”

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