MCALESTER, Okla. – At the direction of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and in support of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, service members from the Oklahoma National Guard disinfected a long-term care facility April 22.
The group split into two teams of five to six Guard members who covered nearly every room in the building while disinfecting floors, walls, commonly touched surfaces and high-traffic areas. Before entering, the teams were screened and equipped with face shields, face masks, bodysuits, boots and two layers of gloves to protect themselves and the facility's residents and staff.
It's important because the residents that live in the McAlester facility fall into the vulnerable population in Oklahoma for COVID-19, said Oklahoma Army National Guard Capt. Vanessa LaGrange, medical operations officer with the 63rd Civil Support Team (63rd CST), 90th Troop Command. "By us coming in here and disinfecting, we mitigate the spread of COVID-19."
Through coordination with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the Oklahoma National Guard made contacts with facilities throughout the state, coordinating needs, schedules and procedures with the staff at the facilities before running disinfectant procedures.
"I really just want to commend the leadership of these long term care facilities for reaching out and being proactive, LaGrange said. These individuals residing here are part of the vulnerable population in the state, and it's so fantastic to know that their leadership cares about their residents.
The Guard members used bleach alternative tablets diluted into solutions that are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for killing the COVID-19 virus while preventing negative effects on the residents and staff of the facility. They then filled spray bottles and pressure sprayers with the solution and used mops and rags to spread the solutions.
[We spray] things like your doorknobs, handles on anything, the arm handles, of chairs – things that you are going to touch with regularity, said Sgt. Christina Burgess, one of two team leads from the 63rd CST. "And then rags and a mop to ensure that our solution spreads and has a lot of good contact time. That way we can control any infection that could be around."
Guard members were able to interact with the residents and staff of the facility, despite the somewhat unnerving appearance of the members in their protective equipment.
"It was way more welcoming than I expected," said LaGrange. "Upon arrival, we were immediately thanked for what we were doing. [We] even had several of the residents wave at us and cheer us on. So it's been overall a really great experience."
The 63rd CST's traditional mission includes supporting civil authorities during incidents related to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive agents or substances, assessing current and projected consequences, advising on response measures, and assisting with appropriate requests for additional state support.
"I joined the Oklahoma National Guard to serve Oklahoma, and I've been really privileged up to this point to be able to do that," said Burgess. "But today, doing that in a community where I have friends and family that are around here, it drives the point home and makes it as though I'm serving them personally as well."
This was the Oklahoma Guard's first mission of this kind during the whole-of-government response to COVID-19, and members will continue to support requests as they come.
"Somebody on my team asked me, 'Hey ma'am, how are we doing?' and my response to them was, we're making a difference," said LaGrange. "Realistically, in my opinion, that summarizes what today has felt like. I feel like what the National Guard stands for in a state, we have accomplished that, just in this one location today."