COVID-19 CRISIS

Guard in gear to conduct virus tests

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It doesn’t promise to be pleasant, but actually taking the coronavirus test – inserting a shaft with a swab on its end down the nostril to the back of the throat – should take no more than 20 seconds, Lt. Col. William Tuttle of the Rhode Island National Guard told the media Wednesday morning in the shadow of the CCRI Knight Campus in Warwick.

The sample collection site is one of three manned by about 150 members of the National Guard designed to dramatically increase the volume of daily COVID-19 tests and meet the governor’s goal of 1,000 tests a day.

Tests are done by appointment only by the patient’s primary care physician. Patients are directed to a specific site and told at what time to report. There is no drive up tests.

Capt. Richard Fisette, who heads the guard’s 13th Civil Support Team that is conducting the tests, said to meet the goal of performing 300 tests a day per site, cars would need to rotate through the testing tent at the rate of 2½ minutes. Depending on the numbers of people turning out and the processing that takes place before the test, people can expect waits.

Those being tested are to remain in their vehicles and to only lower their window when instructed so that the test can be administered. The swab is then placed in a vial, appropriately labeled and sent to East Side Clinical Lab. Fisette said the lab would then inform the person’s primary care physician of the result. Results may not be known for up to 72 hours because of the volume of tests to be preformed. In the event of a positive test, the state Department of Health would also be notified so that the patient can be properly tracked.

The test sites will be operational seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the capability of being ramped up.

On Wednesday morning, Tuttle and Col. Craig Maceri briefed the media on the overall operation that was followed by visits to the registration tent and then the testing tent that was closed to the media, but where four guard members were suited in protective gear in preparation for people arriving at 9 a.m.

Fisette said the Civil Support Team has trained to perform tests and has been actively performing them prior to opening the latest test sites. Preparing the team – consisting of Sgt. Tegan Brown, Sgt. Coral Brown, Spc. Brandon Bresette and Pfc. Cesar Alverz – required them stepping into a white suit covering them from head to foot. They were assisted by Sgt. Brandon Young and Sgt. Michael Fabrcio, who taped their arms and legs to ensure a tight fit. In addition, they were outfitted with multiple pairs of gloves, masks and a clear shield over their faces.

“Taking them off is more important,” Fisette said, explaining it is critical that the team member not contaminate him or herself. The suits are won once and disposed of in bio hazardous bags that are then burned.

The National Guard is also manning test sites at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island.

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