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Home : News
NEWS | June 16, 2020

Michigan Guard engineers balance COVID-19 risk, readiness

By Capt. Andrew Layton Michigan National Guard

MARQUETTE, Mich. – Michigan National Guard Lt. Col. Lucas Lanczy anticipated this.

On June 5, six days into his unit’s annual training, Lanczy, commander of the 107th Engineer Battalion based in Ishpeming, learned three of his Soldiers tested presumed positive for COVID-19. They were tested before training began May 30. Since then, the Soldiers had been living and working together in the field under austere conditions.

Having planned for this very scenario, Lanczy didn’t panic.

“We had a risk mitigation plan in place going into this that assumed anyone in this formation could be COVID-19 positive,” he said. “These procedures were in place from the start of training; testing is a great tool for assessing risk, but it’s these safeguards that actually protect our Soldiers from getting the disease.”

This blueprint for health safety, which includes social distancing, masks and hygiene, had kept Lanczy’s team busy – along with a cadre of Michigan National Guard medical specialists – for months, planning annual training during a global pandemic. They worked with public health officials on details, right down to soap-and-water buckets for Soldiers to regularly clean their masks. To ensure plenty of space for social distancing, the unit was spread across three locations: Marquette County Fairgrounds, Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center, and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

One Soldier tested presumptive-positive for COVID-19 at each of the three sites. All three were asymptomatic.

Professionals at Johns Hopkins University and other sources estimate 10%-25% of positive COVID-19 test results are false positives.

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allows asymptomatic personnel to return to work 10 days after their initial test. So the three Soldiers were removed from training and placed in isolation. They returned to duty after having been cleared in writing by the county health department.

When one Soldier returned to duty June 9 in Marquette, she became Lanczy’s driver for the remainder of the training period.

“I wanted her to work side-by-side with me because I have that much confidence in the protocol and safety measures we have followed,” said Lanczy. “To me, that’s just how we need to treat people.”

Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard, praised Lanczy’s leadership under these conditions.

“We are living in a post-COVID world, so at some point, we could all have a friend, loved one, or neighbor diagnosed as COVID-positive,” Rogers said. “This is our new normal; we need to look for innovative ways to continue a vigorous fight against this disease and resist stigmatizing those fortunate enough to recover.”

Out of an abundance of caution, Soldiers of the 107th Engineer Battalion were tested again to assess their risk of exposure to COVID-19. Results came back June 13 indicating the three Soldiers were now negative for COVID-19.

“This shows that working hand-in-hand with experts from the medical and public health professions has paid off, with them guiding and informing our actions,” said Lanczy.

He said this annual training period has been exceptionally rewarding.

At the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Site, engineers from the 107th partnered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on an infrastructure renovation project as part of their training. The project is valued at $1.2 million but will be completed for only the cost of materials, approximately $400,000, in collaboration under the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training program.

Rogers is quick to point out that although the three Soldiers are back to work, the presumptive-positive COVID-19 tests are a reminder that even communities in isolated places like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are still at risk for the virus.

“As Michigan returns to work, it is still necessary for individual citizens (and Soldiers) to adhere to CDC guidelines to protect themselves and their families,” he said. “This testing tells us that there was an undetected risk for COVID-19 in the communities our Soldiers come from that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise.”

The Michigan National Guard’s COVID-19 testing teams have their own record of success. Since the beginning of May, medical specialists from across the Michigan National Guard have completed COVID-19 testing in all of Michigan’s 29 Department of Corrections facilities. They have also tested for residents and staff in 132 of Michigan’s long-term care facilities.

“Of the 1,100 members we’ve had on orders supporting the response to COVID-19, we’ve had no positive COVID-19 cases as a result of their participation in these missions,” said Rogers. “It goes to show that even when our members have been serving in some of the areas hit hardest by COVID-19, they’ve been able to mitigate risk by following the guidance provided by professional authorities.”

Michigan National Guard testing teams continue their partnership with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan State Police, and local health departments to offer community COVID-19 testing across the state. June 13-14, the Guard helped test in eight cities serving more than 3,050 community members. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a single drive-through testing event at Berry Events Center on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette served nearly 1,000 community members.

“Widespread testing is one of the most critical measures to assess risk in our communities,” said Rogers. “The Michigan National Guard is working hard alongside our state partners to make it safe and easy for Michiganders to get tested. It’s part of our commitment to be ‘always ready and always there.’”