HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (DVIDS) – The Massachusetts Nation Guard has administered more than 10,000 COVID-19 swab tests for patients and staff in facilities across the Commonwealth since the mission began April 2.
In coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, facilities like nursing homes, assisted living homes, and state hospitals have their demands for testing fulfilled. The number of tests at each facility range from a few to a few hundred but every test is administered with the same care and every Service Member wears personal protective equipment including a chemical suit, face shield, gloves, and mask throughout the entire process.
To combat the virus with thorough testing, the Massachusetts National Guard established Task Force Medical and the CBRNE Medical Support Team (CMST). CBRNE stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive and represents the decontamination specialists who accompany the trained medical professionals to each facility. Each CMST includes two decontamination specialists and one medical specialist, who ensures the clinical standard of the nasopharyngeal test is maintained.
Task Force Shield provides the final members of each testing team. These Soldiers from the 51st Troop Command must come in direct contact with the patients and staff who need testing. One Soldier administers the nasopharyngeal swab, a second takes the sample and secures it in packaging, and a third runs it over and places it in the cooler until everything can be delivered to the lab later that day. These Soldiers go through a full decontamination process by the CBRNE specialists before starting the next test.
Maj. Mark Bennett, the Chief of Operations for the CMSTs, said the program for facilities to administer the tests themselves has been suspended so the demand for this testing process is high. Anyone refusing the test is respected, and overall there’s an overwhelmingly positive response and morale is high among the troops.
“All necessary precautions are taken to protect against exposure and cross contamination between persons. The utmost care is taken in the conduct and handling of test samples in order to ensure accuracy and reliability to the greatest possible extent,” said Bennett.
Bennett referred to the Department of Public Health’s testing as a total surveillance strategy, providing maximum coverage across the state’s most vulnerable facilities. Some received multiple rounds of testing already but so far 189 different facilities received a visit from the CMST totaling 11,500 tests.