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Civil support teams key element of Guard’s COVID-19 response

By Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes | National Guard Bureau | March 23, 2020

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ARLINGTON, Va. – "Isolate, isolate, isolate," said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Morrison, a member of the West Virginia National Guard's 35th Civil Support Team, during a training session with health officials in Huntington, West Virginia. "That way you keep as much contaminant off of everything that you can."

His words were a key part of the training session, which covered a variety of personal protective measures health officials and hospital workers should take as they respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Morrison's team is just one of 57 civil support teams spread throughout the National Guard – one in each state, territory and the District of Columbia, with two teams in California, New York and Florida. The teams' primary mission is to identify and assess potential biological, chemical, and radiological agents and provide recommendations on ways to counter or neutralize their effects.

"The [CSTs] are experts in working in hazardous material environments," said Army Lt. Col. Jennifer Cope, the CST program manager at the National Guard Bureau. She said about 10 teams are actively responding to COVID-19, with additional teams standing by.

For the Florida National Guard's 44th Civil Support Team, that means supporting efforts at drive-through testing facilities, said Cope. People who meet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's criteria to be tested for the virus can be swabbed while in their vehicle. Guard members package the swabs to be shipped to a lab, which sends the results to the state department of health.

Members of the Wyoming National Guard's 84th Civil Support Team have also been called upon to help with testing, but on the other end. Lab operators from the team are working at the state's lab to test swab samples and help provide results, said Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Seelye, commander of the 84th CST.

"Assisting with the COVID-19 response is well within the scope and design of the civil support team mission," he said. "We have a unique skill set that we have been able to be able to draw upon to support our state during this crisis."

In addition to assisting with testing, many CSTs – like the 35th CST in West Virginia – have been training and educating first responders and medical personnel on the use of personal protective equipment and decontamination techniques, said Cope.

"Their job is to assist and advise," said Cope. "They can't make the decision on what is to be done. That's done by local, state and federal agencies. We're there in a support role."

CST teams are among the more than 8,000 National Guard members in the 50 states, three territories and District of Columbia assisting in the fight against COVID-19.