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NEWS | Sept. 10, 2020

Hawaii Guard recon COVID testing conducted on freeway

By 1st Lt. Anyah Peatross Public Affairs Office

HONOLULU – The Hawaii National Guard (HING) Joint Task Force (JTF) helped conduct a surge COVID-19 testing program on a freeway Aug. 26 through Sept. 14.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams and Honolulu County Mayor Kirk Caldwell coordinated with multiple agencies to administer 60,000 tests ​on Oahu.

With COVID-19 cases remaining steady in the triple digits, the state increased public access to test sites. Within days, thousands of residents took advantage of a free self-administered COVID-19 swab test. Despite traffic congestion and prolonged wait times, residents were thankful for the first responders and National Guard assistance.

"Task Force Oahu is supporting Honolulu County's efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while meeting the general public's needs such as safety, security and community health protection," said 1st Sgt. Lane Martinez, senior noncommissioned officer assigned to Company Bravo with Task Force Oahu, HING JTF. "Two units from the HING are also assisting the city and county of Honolulu by providing onsite surge testing registration support."

Oahu leaders temporarily used Hawaii's largest interstate, the John A. Burns Freeway (H-3), and it's Tetsuo Harano Tunnels as a drive-thru test site. Normal access in both directions on the H-3 was suspended and only people interested or registered to participate in the drive-thru COVID surge tests were allowed to access the freeway.

"This is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind collaboration," said Hawaii Gov. David Ige. "The H-3 Freeway is a place where we can do mass testing without disrupting lives and traffic in urban neighborhoods."

Three officers of the HING JTF shared their experiences of taking a COVID test themselves at the H-3 test site. They handed their pre-registration forms to a fellow Hawaii Air Guard member wearing a safety vest, gloves, a KN95 mask and a face shield. He quickly returned their forms along with individual test kits containing a labeled vial, nasal swab, and napkin. Then the Airman instructed the driver to re-enter the flow of traffic and continue further into the tunnel to nurses who provided guidance on performing the self-administered swab test.

"It was much quicker than I expected. It seemed to be well organized and well run," said Col. Michael Tougher III, commander of Task Force Oahu. "Overall, I thought the testing was simple and did not feel too invasive, not uncomfortable."

Guard members were stationed at both entrances to the tunnel along H-3 wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Conducting COVID support on a freeway is unprecedented for the Hawaii National Guard. The Soldiers and Airmen who are a part of the HING JTF have deployed to war zones, supported communities after hurricanes and lava flows, but with COVID-19, everything that they have been asked to do is new. Airport medical screening, distributing PPE to communities, swabbing prisoners for the virus and assisting the Hawaii Department of Health with COVID mapping.

Lt. Col. Wesley Kawakami, the driver of the Guard group, said the test wasn't bad at all.

"It was very comfortable," said Kawakami. "The size of the swab is as big as a coffee stirrer. I would do it again."

It was 2nd Lt. Alnor Cabonce's first COVID-19 swab test and first experience witnessing surge test operations.

"It's important to have these tests because it allows us to determine how many people actually have COVID," said Cabonce. "I think overall, it's better to get tested so that there is data to analyze and improve upon the way we've been combating COVID."

About 800 Soldiers and Airmen support more than three-dozen missions carried out daily on six islands. The Guard works alongside its partners at all levels of government, health care organizations and volunteers.



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