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News >  Pacific NW

‘Helping in the fight’: Idaho National Guard tackles COVID tasks. Here’s what they do

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 18, 2020

By Jacob Scholl Idaho Statesman

Last month, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed an executive order sending up to 100 members of the Idaho National Guard around the state for 30 days to assist health care workers in their battle against COVID-19.

Last Friday, Little increased that support to 250 members and also issued an extension for their service with a new order, authorizing Guard members to serve through March.

“As medical providers across the state continue to call on the Guard for assistance, this additional authorization enables our Guardsmen to continue helping in the fight,” Little said in a news release. “With members of the Guard performing these missions, it frees up health care workers to focus on providing critical patient care. We are deeply grateful for their service.”

The majority of sites hosting members are located in the Treasure Valley, but there are some spread across the state, according to the Idaho National Guard.

So what exactly are they doing and what roles are they filling?

As of Monday, 130 Guard members were out in the community, according to Lt. Col. Christopher Borders, a public affairs officer for the Idaho Military Division. That could climb as high as 250, per the governor’s new order, depending ultimately on the needs from each health district.

For the most part, Borders said, these Guardsmen are providing coronavirus testing support, handling intake and traffic control, and even distributing food and providing transportation.

“Whenever the Guard responds, it’s your friends, family and your neighbors coming together to support our communities,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, adjutant general of Idaho and leader of the Idaho National Guard. “We are all citizens of Idaho, working toward the same goal.”

To get Guard assistance, Idaho health districts have to file requests with the Idaho Office of Emergency Management for what they need, and that request gets screened for approval. It is then sent to the National Guard, which sends out who is available and who is best suited to help, Borders said.

If a Guard member is already working in the medical field as a civilian, that member is not eligible to serve.

Around the Treasure Valley, members are providing support at Saint Alphonsus clinics in Meridian and Nampa, and at Southwest District Health in Caldwell. The Guard is also helping with patient intake at seven Primary Health locations from Caldwell to Boise. At the Lighthouse Rescue Mission in Nampa, Guard members distribute food and offer transportation help.

For the Good Samaritan Society in Boise, members are assisting in coronavirus testing for staff members. The Guard is also helping the Boise-based Central District Health with data entry for the investigation team that conducts contact tracing.

Two weeks ago, Little had an event at Saint Alphonsus Medical Group in Meridian to highlight the help the Guard was providing already. Tami Schaller, executive director of nursing, touted the members’ assistance doing triage and helping with patient intake, including collecting vital signs and demographic information.

“And then we’ve also trained (them) to work in our lab to do our point-of-care testing,” she said.

In North Idaho, members of the Guard are assisting with COVID-19 testing in Kootenai and Boundary counties, according to Borders. In Pocatello, they are at work in the warehouse at the Idaho Foodbank; at Idaho State University’s testing site; and at Portneuf Medical Center screening visitors and patients at the door.

Borders said Guard members also help the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes by distributing food in Fort Hall and Pocatello, and help process patients and assist the testing lab at the Eastern Idaho Public Health site in Idaho Falls.

The Guard’s focus is to do what is needed to free up health care providers so they can focus on treating patients, according to Borders. The Guard is anticipating more requests to come in from health districts, likely to help with COVID-19 screening, testing and sanitation, among other possible assignments, he said.

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