167th Airlift Wing members assist health department with voluntary COVID-19 mapping

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tim Sencindiver
  • 167th Airlift Wing

As the coronavirus threatens the local community, a group of 167th Airlift Wing members continue to guide locals through the uncertainty of it all. 

Currently, eight unit members are conducting voluntary COVID-19 mapping for the Berkeley and Jefferson County Health Departments. They are contacting people who have tested for the coronavirus, guiding them through quarantine protocol, while collecting voluntarily-provided data.

“The lab will determine if the individual was positive or negative; once they are positive, then we start our process of contacting them within 24 hours,” says Capt. Rodney Brown, officer in charge of contact investigation for the Jefferson County Health Department. “Affected individuals are not required to provide us any information; we do ensure them that we are here to help,” said Brown, who is also the director of the 167th Airlift Wing’s Equal Opportunity office.

The health department asks those testing positive for COVID-19 to provide the names and contact information of recently contacted individuals. The West Virginia National Guard is augmenting this initiative, led by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Research (WVDHHR).

“The regular duties of the health department are still carried out by the nurses who work here and the physicians,” said Staff Sgt. Erin Engle, contact investigator for the Jefferson County Health Department. “That’s why it’s so important to have additional personnel to help with the COVID-19 response because all of those things still needed to happen,” said Engle who is also an aerospace medical technician with the 167th Medical Group.

The Airmen on this mission received on-the-job training provided by WVDHHR officials and nurse staff. They also had online training for restricting the release of medical information and cyber security classes to defend private healthcare information.

“There is a lot of medical terminologies that we’ve been using,” said Engle. “We have to communicate both with patients that are COVID-19 positive and the nursing staff at the health department, and if you can speak both languages, that helps.” Engle said, “Being a licensed practical nurse and a medical technician makes communication with the health department more seamless.”

On a typical day, the health department nurses receive the positive cases, then transfer them to the contact investigators, who will then make an initial phone call to let the person know that they tested positive or negative for COVID-19. Next, they explain the quarantine procedure. They also collect information on who they’ve been around, where they’ve been, and what their occupation is to try to determine potential exposure to their communities.

“We stick to the script,” Brown said. “For instance, if there is a particular restaurant that several people have patronized within the last week, questions like this could lead the investigators to find a possible outbreak and warn others at risk.”

The Berkeley and Jefferson county teams have placed more than 6000 calls concerning their assigned COVID-19 cases. One person in a case will take 15 to 30 minutes to enter into the WVDHHR database. Each case has the potential for more than a dozen entries as other persons affected become possible positive cases.

“It’s a lot of data that we are trying to collect in a short amount of time,” said Brown. “We all have the common mission, the common goal which is to educate the community and to combat the pandemic.”