By Capt. Brendan Mackie
The Delaware National Guard continues its community-based testing mission this month, which has enabled already thousands of Delawareans to get checked for COVID-19. About 25 soldiers and airmen of the Delaware National Guard have been working since last month with staff members from the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, or DEMA, to increase the availability of saliva-based test kits for the coronavirus disease to individuals at temporary drive-thru locations across the First State.
“We’ve been working in conjunction with DEMA to make sure that at least 80,000 Delawareans receive coronavirus testing regardless if they are having symptoms or not,” said Capt. Jodie Cantey, a clinical nurse with the Delaware Air National Guard’s 166th Medical Group. “Half of our team is doing patient registration,” she said. “They’re making sure that the testing kits are registered to the correct person, and then half our team is doing education. We’re just making sure that the people who are coming here for testing are able to perform the steps correctly.”
Capt. Cantey said that most watch an online instructional video in advance. They also receive a printed fact sheet from the on-site registration team, “but we’re here just to make sure that they’re comfortable with performing the test themselves.”
“Anybody can get the swab test,” said Sgt. Carol Beachum, a patient administration specialist with Delaware Army National Guard. “It’s free and not referral based since some people don’t have a doctor.”
First Lt. James Willey, an ordnance officer with the organization’s 262nd Component Repair Company, spoke about how test-takers pass effortlessly through the drive-thru lanes at the community-based sites compared to similar pop-up events at the start of last month.
“They’re here basically five to seven minutes; that’s it,” Willey said. “It’s extremely quick. That’s the biggest difference. It’s pretty wild to see how many cars they’ve done.” “The person will roll up in their car, and they will be handed the testing kit,” said Spc. Ashley Jacobs, a combat medic with the Delaware Army National Guard, “and they will sit in their car and perform the test on themselves, and [then] they just drop it off.”
Early last month, members of the Delaware Guard worked several symptom-driven testing sites, providing logistical support there. The Guard’s community-based testing missions are distinct because its soldiers and airmen are at the forefront, running each event from start to finish. The saliva-based test being offered is the Curative-Korva SARS-Cov-2 Assay, “designed to detect the virus that causes COVID-19 in respiratory specimens, for example, nasal or oral swabs or oral fluid,” according to information provided by KorvaLabs Inc.
Following each testing event, service members from the Delaware National Guard’s 31st Civil Support Team secure and transport the biohazard-bagged specimens, which then undergo lab work at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The test-takers can expect their results – either positive or negative for COVID-19 – within a few days by email or telephone.
To date, the Delaware National Guard’s Joint Task Force Medical has completed community-based testing missions at Dover, Harrington, Middletown, Newark, and Seaford. The Curative drive-thru testing events are free and open to the public, taking place multiple days a week. The testing times and locations are posted online at the state’s coronavirus.delaware.gov/testing website. Concerning the Curative saliva-based test, individuals are encouraged to sign up for an appointment and watch the instructional video beforehand.
“Get tested to not only protect yourself, but people who are very vulnerable and maybe can’t get tested themselves,” Spc. Jacobs said. “It’s better to know and to act accordingly then not know and to infect maybe hundreds of people.”
The Curative testing initiative is a segment of the state’s plan to transition from symptom-driven, hospital-based testing operations to a more proactive, collaborative community-based testing strategy. Medical specialists have cited both as being critical to reopening the economy in Delaware.
“It’s important to know who has it, how many people are walking around and are asymptomatic,” Jacobs said. “If we don’t know who’s carrying it and don’t know any number, or any idea of where the virus is [active], then we can’t move forward into the next phase.”