CUMBERLAND, Md. – Maryland National Guard Soldiers are helping local health departments test residents in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 1729th Maintenance Company, stationed in Havre de Grace, is supporting a testing site in Allegany County.
Soldiers made the trek from Northeast Maryland to the far Western part of the state to support the mission and free up health department staff.
"The health care workers are really understaffed and overwhelmed, so it's nice for us to come here and give them a helping hand," said Spc. Braxton Price, assigned to the 1729th MC, Maryland Army National Guard. "It kind of gives them a little break and a little breathing room, so they have the time to administer the vaccine."
The community-based testing site ensures the people in the county and surrounding areas have access to free COVID-19 testing. Amanda Smith, clinical lead for the Allegany County Health Department, credits the MDNG.
"They brought the manpower to keep the site up and running. If you all weren't here, we wouldn't be operational," explained Smith. "The Guard are people that you are side-by-side with in the workplace, side-by-side in the community, and they go above and beyond to serve our country and when called upon just drop everything and go."
Price left his family in Cecil County to support Marylanders hours away. He did the same last year, helping to distribute food in Baltimore, and it really left an impression on him.
"When we finally got to go out and interact with the public, it was nice to see how much people really needed it," said Price. "It may have only looked like a small food box, but people really needed it and it brightened their day."
Price served on active duty for three years at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Lakewood, Washington. As an engineer with the 7th Infantry Division, he learned interpersonal skills that prepared him to interact with the public during this pandemic.
"Once I joined the military, especially in active duty, it really opened me up and brought me out of my shell," explained Price. "It gave me those one-on-one people skills to make people feel comfortable in conversation. When people see you in uniform and it could be completely new to them."
Price said it is important for people to feel comfortable as testing requires the patients to do something they may have never done before, like a self-swab COVID-19 test.
"We are there for self-swabbing and the nurses do the actual swabbing," said Price. "We give them (patients) the option if they want the nurse to do it or if they want to try out the new self-swab, and if they want to do the self-swab, my role is talking them through it and making them comfortable with doing the swab themselves."
U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Anton Schultz, officer in charge at the Allegany County testing site, said he is impressed with the dedication of his Soldiers, even in freezing conditions.
"They are in direct contact with many people getting tested and are actually processing those testing kits individually on their own," said Schultz. "They have hands on the swabs, they have hands on the vials and they are making sure the paperwork is getting done. I'm asking a lot of them and we're out here, usually in subfreezing temperatures, and these guys are standing outside all day and I haven't heard a single (complaint) from them."
The MDNG is also supporting testing sites in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Garrett, Montgomery and St. Mary's counties and in the city of Baltimore.