TOPEKA, Kan. – In a mission that began in March, Kansas National Guard teams have driven some 50,000 miles transporting COVID-19 samples from counties across the state to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Lab in Topeka.
Each team is assigned a specific region of the state from which they provide transportation for the test kits. The test samples are collected, boxed by medical facilities and then handed off to members of the Kansas Guard for transport.
“This mission is primarily a logistics task and consists of transporting the tests from the requested county health departments and test sites,” said Maj. Kade Garst, with the 997th Brigade Support Battalion and the officer in charge of the mission. “Staging areas include as far west as Colby and as far south as Garden City.”
“The Guard’s effort in transporting the test samples helps,” said Staff Sgt. Raymond Owes, Kansas Army National Guard signal support systems specialist, 997th Brigade Support Battalion. “In Kansas, we have a lot of small communities that need the assistance. We help to bridge that gap in services for those communities.”
Local pick up routes to the Topeka area include Troy and Lawrence with five to seven missions a week to pick up and then drop off at the KDHE lab in Topeka.
Sites such as the Doniphan County Health Department and Home Health in Troy have expanded COVID-19 testing from two to five days with an appointment. The increase in testing has meant an increased need to transport the samples to the state.
“The Guard’s assistance with transporting the tests has had a big impact on the amount of tests we are able to send to the labs,” said Sheryl Pierce, Doniphan County Health Department and Home Health administrator. “It’s been a huge help.”
All Guard Soldiers wear masks when in close quarters with one another in vehicles and when they are in public. Vehicles also are sanitized every day.