COLUMBUS, Ohio – All across the nation, National Guard Airmen and Soldiers are supporting their communities and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially exposing themselves while serving their duties.
As the men and women of the Ohio National Guard work to protect their communities, Air Force Lt. Col. Gary Katz, a flight surgeon assigned to the Ohio Air National Guard's 178th Wing, is the man assigned to protect them and keep them healthy.
"We don't know how long this mission will last, and we have to make certain our force is healthy so they can keep providing aid and comfort to our neighbors in need," Katz said. "I'm confident the measures we are taking will help diminish the severity of this situation."
Katz's role on Joint Task Force 37 (JTF-37) is to review medical reports and advise commanders on how to safeguard their personnel. He said he's been researching how long the virus can survive on different materials and surfaces and has issued numerous health advisories to Guard members performing the humanitarian mission known as Operation Steady Resolve.
One example of these discoveries involves cardboard. Katz said he found that the virus can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard. This is significant because the initial mission of Operation Steady Resolve is to provide personnel to support 12 regional food banks across Ohio, which serve all 88 counties. As part of that mission, those Guard members are handling cardboard every day as they package and deliver food and other essential items to Ohio's most vulnerable citizens.
"This is one of the great challenges facing our country, right now – making sure the frontline personnel have everything they require to protect themselves while they're caring for others who are seeking help," Katz said. "My job is to ensure that everyone is adhering to these guidelines, so they don't transmit the virus to themselves or others."
Army Lt. Col. Mike Draper, chief of staff for JTF-37, said, "We don't know how long this thing is going to last and the work (Katz) is doing here is absolutely critical to ensuring we can meet the needs of our communities in the long-term."
Outside of his service in the Ohio National Guard, Katz is an emergency medicine physician serving Fayette and Highland counties. He has 20 years of medical experience he brings to his role on JTF-37, and only joined the Guard a few years ago, at 46 years old.
He said he was looking for an opportunity to give back to his community, and he found that opportunity in the Guard.
"I wanted to be available to my neighbors and other neighboring communities to provide for them in a time of need," Katz said. "I never imagined it would be in the form of pandemic relief, but this is one of the core reasons I joined. When I'm working in the ER, I might be able to help 30 families a day, but with what I'm doing here, I'm able to help thousands of families a day all over Ohio."