NEW YORK – New York Army National Guard Warrant Officer Christopher Gallant has seen both sides of the fight against COVID-19. After surviving the disease, Gallant is back on duty at the Javits New York Medical Station, where more than 1,090 coronavirus patients have been treated.
His story is typical of other Soldiers and Airmen who had a brush with the virus and are still on duty in the effort to contain it.
March 11 should have been a time to celebrate for Gallant as he had just graduated from Warrant Officer Candidate School at Ft. Rucker, Alabama.
By March 16, however, he was in self-quarantine with COVID symptoms. With body aches, persistent headaches and a fever, Gallant, a full-time Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller from Amity Harbor, knew there was a possibility he had the disease.
“Overall the symptoms were very mild but they completely fit with COVID symptoms,” said Gallant, who is assigned to the New York Army National Guard’s Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation. “By Wednesday, March 18, I still had the same conditions and called my doctor to get tested.”
While awaiting the test results, he remained in quarantine and treated his symptoms with over-the-counter medication.
“By Thursday, March 19, I was about 90% better and Friday, March 20, was back to normal,” Gallant said, “well enough to work out that day and even run two to three miles.”
Gallant, who is waiting to attend Army Aviation Initial Entry Rotary Wing training in May to become a Black Hawk pilot, followed the Suffolk County Department of Health guidance on when he could return to work.
The control tower he works in as an air traffic controller remained closed after he and a colleague tested positive. Still, he was able to go back to his role as a volunteer firefighter with the Copiague Fire Department, driving an ambulance and riding on the fire truck.
“While in recovery, I had put in a request to volunteer for state active duty to help the COVID-19 response,” Gallant said, as throughout March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo activated the New York National Guard to bolster the state’s response to the pandemic.
“Isolation and staying in quarantine isn’t fun, but imperative to stop the spread,” Gallant said. “I had had a few friends who have gotten sick since, and talking to them has really seemed to be helpful. Sometimes it isn’t just being sick but mind over matter. The anxiety tends to magnify symptoms you are feeling, and having the reassurance of a friend makes things quite a bit better.”
Gallant said he had to wait 14 days from the onset of symptoms to ensure it was safe for him to return to work, so he scheduled another test to show he was COVID-19 negative.
“Although my symptoms were nonexistent for over a week, I still got a positive result after 14 days since the onset of symptoms,” Gallant said.
After further coordination with Army doctors, he was able to go on duty April 4 as the safety officer at the medical center, which was set up to ease the strain on New York City hospitals.
“We have a team of five Soldiers and our primary function is to oversee the safety of all the projects taking place at Javits,” Gallant said. “On a daily basis, I am constantly working with civilian agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, state fire and Northwell Health, along with various military forces working at Javits.”
The team has been pushing out the latest guidance and education on COVID-19 while also revamping the donning/doffing process for personal protective equipment. To help make life easier for the staff, Gallant and his team also set up break areas for them to safely unwind, complete with TVs, microwaves, coffee machines and refrigerators.
Gallant was approached by Army Maj. Robert Freed, the deputy commander for New York’s 24th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (WMD-CST). As the officer in charge, Freed’s team is responsible for testing people for the COVID-19 virus.
“I had heard that Warrant Officer Gallant had previously tested positive for COVID-19 while my team and I were training the doctors and nurses about decontamination techniques,” Freed said. “... The White House shipped us some of the new serologic antibody test kits to use, and I thought Gallant would be the perfect candidate to try them out before we started using them on a larger scale.”
Freed said this type of test looks for viral anitbodies in the blood as opposed to an active presence of the disease near the nasopharynx – the back of the throat.
“If you’re actively sick, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests being used at the drive-thru sites are typically a better test since your body may not have developed antibodies at that point,” Freed said. “Basically, one test can help determine if you were sick and one test can help determine if you are sick.”
The test is conducted by pricking a finger and dropping a small amount of blood onto a cassette. Then adding a buffer solution, results come back in 10-20 minutes.
The 24th CST is equipped with a mobile lab the team uses to find, identify and mitigate substances that are chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive. They can take these capabilities and use them as part of the COVID-19 response.
“We were excited that the antibody test was able to confirm Warrant Officer Gallant had built up antibodies for the COVID-19 virus,” Freed said. “Having a tool that can help get Soldiers and Airmen back to duty is critical to maintaining our effectiveness as a force.”
It’s also critical that people like Gallant, who became ill, recovered and returned to the fight, are part of the New York National Guard’s COVID-19 response effort.
“The Guard is excellent at making quick work of large projects and does it well,” Gallant said. “We built something the world has never seen before and it would not have been possible without the great teamwork and knowledge that everyone brought to the table.”