COLCHESTER, Vt. - Vermont National Guard Airmen have assembled and distributed thousands of COVID-19 test kits and personal protective equipment to schools across the state before they reopen Sept. 8.
Operating out of two bays at the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) warehouse, Master Sgt. Karl Johansen, test-kit assembly team supervisor, and Tech. Sgt. Alex Airoldi, SNS warehouse team supervisor, both from the 158th Mission Support Group, 158th Fighter Wing, coordinated with the Vermont Department of Health the past several weeks to streamline processing and distribution of medical supplies.
On July 17, Johansen and his team of nine other Guard members volunteered to fulfill a health department request to assemble and distribute COVID-19 test kits, which had previously been processed by the state labs. Since that day, the team has assembled over 40,000 kits, freeing the labs to focus on processing tests more efficiently.
“There is no playbook for this,” said Johansen. “But by bringing together all of these different agencies, we are forming processes to take on these new challenges.”
Flexibility has been key to their success, according to Johansen. Some days Guard members report to the lab to help manufacture saline for test kits; on other days, they form assembly lines to build as many as 3,000 kits in a day.
The Airmen on Johansen’s team come from across the 158th Fighter Wing, ranging from positions in finance to avionics.
“It’s been cool to see the ramp-up of testing before school,” said Airmen Logan Abell, 158th Mission Support Group, 158th Fighter Wing. “It feels good to be a part of the process.”
A diverse team of Airmen has been working since March to support logistical operations at the SNS warehouse. When Scott announced Vermont would be distributing PPE to schools across the state, the order came to Airoldi’s team on Aug. 17.
By Aug. 21, the team had prepared 1,600 school nurse PPE kits and shipped the first pallets to schools in Chittenden County, St. Albans, Berlin and St. Johnsbury. Pallets for the rest of the state left the warehouse Aug. 28.
“Our mission here at the warehouse is to assist the Vermont Department of Health with the management and distribution of critical medical PPE,” said Airoldi. “This ensures Vermonters have the necessary resources to aid in the prevention and protection of this ever-evolving public health emergency.”
Emily Pareles, the Vermont Department of Health deputy branch director for medical logistics branch at the State Emergency Operations Center, said the state will soon have as much as six months of PPE pre-positioned at the warehouse.
“Really, this comes down to helping protect our own communities,” said Johansen. “By helping the Vermont Department of Health distribute these tests, we’re doing our part to help the state keep the curve as flat as possible.”