IONIA, Mich. – As the fight against COVID-19 continues, so does the partnership between the Michigan National Guard and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). The Michigan Army and Air National Guard has established an extensive COVID testing program for prisons across the state.
“We are testing staff because they have to be tested on a weekly basis,” said Spc. Bethany Gurnee, a testing team leader assigned to the 46th Military Police Company. “Instead of them having to go out on their own time, they can get it done at their work.”
The partnership with the MDOC is one of the ways the Guard is working to ensure the health and safety of all of Michigan’s residents.
“We are also testing inmates because they want to identify positive cases and this is one way for them to do so,” said Gurnee. “Outside of this, we do community-based [public] testing, which is free, and then we do long-term care testing as well.”
According to the MDOC, as of Oct. 6, there have been a total of 98,184 inmate and 16,500 staff tests.
“Testing is crucial in helping us in our fight against this virus,” said Chris Gautz, MDOC spokesman. “Knowing when and where we have positive cases allows us to move quickly to stop further spread by cohorting prisoners and keeping the rest of the population and our staff safe.”
The medics responsible for the testing follow strict safety measures, wearing personal protective equipment and using proper sanitization and disposal methods. Spc. Nicholas Rittler, 126th Infantry Regiment medic, says these protocols help ensure the safety of both the medics and those tested.
Gurnee has been on the testing teams since the beginning of the pandemic. She said the Guard went through all of the correctional facilities in May.
“The testing is important because people want to know if they have [the coronavirus] and it can help protect other people,” said Gurnee. “With the prisons, if inmates are testing positive, they can separate them from the rest.”
As the battle against the virus continues, the Guard’s mission is to do everything possible to promote the well-being of Michigan residents. The partnership with the MDOC is an important part of that mission.
“We simply would not be able to do this level of testing without the Guard. This assistance has been invaluable,” said Gautz. “This partnership has gone incredibly well from the very beginning. We could not be happier with the assistance we have been provided. The professionalism and positive attitude among the Guard has been amazing.”