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Home : News
NEWS | April 15, 2020

Connecticut Guard, Uruguay share COVID-19 best practices

By Timothy Connecticut National Guard

HARTFORD, Conn. – The Connecticut National Guard hosted a video conference with military partners in Uruguay, its State Partnership Program counterpart, to share ways to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The April 9 video chat was the first of its kind for the Southern Command area of responsibility.

Maj. Pedro Concolino, director of the Connecticut National Guard's State Partnership Program, said Uruguay is about 16 days behind Connecticut in terms of the virus progression. The virtual meeting allowed both parties to look at the problem in a new way and continue to build upon their 20-year partnership.

"We don't stop being partners just because we're wrapped up in our own stuff," said Concolino. "I think this exchange shows the extent to which both countries take it seriously. We both took time out of our schedule during a pandemic to talk to each other and share notes to try and potentially save some lives."

The call was put together by U.S. Army Capt. Rebecca Rojas, the bilateral affairs officer at the U.S. embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay. Rojas is a Connecticut National Guard Soldier who, on top of working as a liaison between Connecticut and Uruguay, also serves as the liaison for the U.S. Southern Command Traditional Commander Activities Program and U.S. Army South.

Also on the call was Karina Rando, the head of the COVID-19 task force for the Uruguayan Ministry of Public Health, Uruguayan Colonel Antonio Nunes, the military liaison to SINAE – the Uruguayan equivalent of the Federal Emergency Management Agency – and Connecticut National Guard Brig. Gen. Ralph Hedenberg, dual-status commander for Connecticut's COVID-19 response.

Many of the strategies Uruguay has adopted to prevent the spread of the deadly virus have mimicked what the U.S. and other countries around the world have done, from closing schools and non-essential businesses to suggesting the use of masks when social distancing cannot be implemented and canceling public social activities, according to Rando, who is a doctor and a captain in the Uruguayan army.

Because COVID-19 cases began to appear in Uruguay later than much of the world, their task force has been able to monitor what other countries have been doing and using that to form their response before the viral infection becomes widespread. But, as a small country with limited exposure to the virus, they've been limited in data gathering and acquisition of essential supplies such as ventilators and test kits.

The Uruguayans have adapted their procedures to make do with what they have until more supplies become available. Through this call, and the willingness to share information, both parties were able to reflect on their own best practices. One important topic was the management of testing kits.

"We both have very restrictive access to COVID-19 test kits," said Concolino. "Something I thought was very interesting that the Uruguayans were doing is they're isolating presumed positives before they test them."

Concolino explained that rather than having someone with symptoms of COVID-19 go to the hospital or a drive-thru test site, the government will shelter them in place for seven days before administering the test. This has nearly eliminated the possibility of false-negative tests and the need to retest someone.

Representatives from the Connecticut National Guard offered their own best practices, particularly with logistics and deployment of ventilators.

Connecticut has been able to acquire ventilators from numerous locally sourced vendors, including the strategic national stockpile and manufacturers. As a small country, Uruguay has few options for procuring this equipment and can't manufacture new ventilators or replacement parts for existing equipment.

"We're waiting for the crisis," said Rando. He noted that 30 percent of Uruguay's intensive care unit beds are empty, but they've already increased bed space by another 30 percent. However, the most challenging issue remains the inability to get replacement parts to fix the ventilators they do have.

"This call provided an opportunity for Uruguay to discuss their problems and for us to provide a few solutions the U.S. has been using to overcome those same problems," said Concolino.

Another area of discussion was modeling the spread of the virus.

"The Uruguayans put together their own model for the spread of COVID-19," said Concolino. "But after some discussion, we offered to input their data into a model put out by Cornell University."

With this data, the Uruguayan government will have a better idea of how the virus spreads and which areas of their country will be more affected.

Above all else, the teleconference provided the U.S. and Uruguay the option to share data and ideas and to help spur innovation to stem the spread of a pandemic.

The Connecticut National Guard intends to maintain close contact with Uruguay to continue to build upon their strategic relationship during and after the pandemic.

The State Partnership Program has been successfully building relationships for over 25 years and now includes 78 partnerships with 84 nations around the globe. SPP links a unique component of the Department of Defense – a state's National Guard – with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.