ALBANY, N.Y. – The job doesn’t look dramatic, but 30 New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen working at tables and packing boxes in an old armory are fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
The Guard members are assembling tens of thousands of COVID-19 test kits for the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Lab. The kits are shipped to 10 state test sites and to other locations across New York.
They are part of a force of 3,500 New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen on duty assisting New York’s response to COVID-19, and more than 31,600 Guard members in the fight nationwide.
Wadsworth Lab has developed a new, less intrusive COVID-19 test conducted with a saliva sample and a self-administered short nasal swab, according to the New York State Department of Health.
The results let a person know if they have the coronavirus. That information helps doctors determine treatment for that individual.
Testing is also needed to help determine when the state’s pause in public gatherings, schools, colleges and normal workplace and retail activity can end, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The National Guard began putting together test kits in the lab building itself and with far fewer people. As the number of test components available increased, the process was moved to the former New Scotland Avenue Armory in Albany, which is now owned by the Sage Colleges.
“The Guard is helping us out with trying to get as many kits out as we can,” said Alexis Tripodo, a state employee of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. ”They are helping out tremendously with the speed of the completed kits and making sure it’s accurate, making sure every bag is packed correctly.”
“The more people we have, the faster we can get these to the sites and the more people we can test,” Tripodo said.
“Everybody is really happy to be here,” said Army Spc. Justin Farber, a member of Delta Company of the 152nd Brigade Engineer Battalion. “We’re doing our part. Everybody is happy to help their communities and give back.”
The team’s goal is to make 15,000 test kits daily, Farber said. They try to make 1,000 kits per hour. On April 10, they built 18,000 test kits and, as of April 13, they had assembled 118,700 kits.
The Soldiers and Airmen set up an assembly line process, but it is still slow, exacting work, Farber said.
“Each station adds their part, then hands it over to the next station,” he said.
Technical Sgt. Jeremy Maxon, a flight engineer from the 109th Airlift Wing, outlined the process at his workstation working with Jonathan Magaletti from the wing’s 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and Staff Sgt. Joshua Kaczor, assigned to the maintenance fuel system repair section of the 109th AW.
There is an outer biohazard bag where all the pieces of the kit go, and an inner bag for the documentation. The assembled kits are packed in boxes of 100.
When Maxon and the other members of the team stepped up to be part of the COVID-19 response, they did not know where they would be working. But they are all proud of this mission, he said.
“We got the tasking to come here and it feels good being able to help out,” Maxon said.