Oklahoma National Guard supports state hotspot through COVID-19 outbreak

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kasey Phipps
  • 137th Special Operations Wing
Oklahoma Air and Army National Guardsmen from throughout Oklahoma, alongside the Oklahoma State Department of Health and other state and federal agencies, are helping to control the spread of COVID-19 in some of the State’s most affected areas, which now includes Guymon, Oklahoma.

As of May 19, 2020, Guymon had 650 confirmed cases of COVID-19, making it second in the total number of cases in Oklahoma. Oklahoma City, which has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, has the largest population of any city in Oklahoma, Guymon is 40th. The testing site was the first in the hotspot city to be open to all residents and not just those with doctor referrals.

“We have what they term a ‘hotspot’ or an ‘outbreak’ of COVID-19 in Guymon,” said Terri Salisbury, Oklahoma State Department of Health regional director. “We are utilizing the National Guard to assist us, because we have more than 600 cases. Not only do we have to test even more of the population in order to identify all the positives, but we also have to notify those cases and the contacts in order for isolation to occur.”

A “hotspot” is defined by the number of cases per capita compared to that of the state or nation. Also as of May 19, Guymon exceeded Oklahoma’s rate of 1.4 cases per 1,000 residents with 57.6 cases per 1,000 residents. However, the nature of the city makes these numbers unique, as most of the cases have traced back to the Seaboard Foods pork processing plant, which is classified as an essential business and produces roughly 4.2 million pounds of pork products per day while employing about 2,700 employees from the county and surrounding states.

On May 15, 2020, leadership from the Oklahoma National Guard, under order of Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma State University laboratories, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, visited with experts at especially affected locations within Guymon. Beginning at the Memorial Hospital of Texas County, which has been seeing an average of three to four COVID-19 patients a day, and then moving on to the Texas County Health Department and the Seaboard Foods pork processing plant, the group focused on creating solutions to issues such as facility layouts, and supply, resources, and staffing shortages.

“You all are on the frontlines of the fight, and this is where the most asymmetrical risk is,” said Oklahoma Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, the commander of the Oklahoma Governor’s Task Force, to Guymon healthcare workers. “We could be at the beginning of a surge that overwhelms the system and capacity here, more than likely requiring a regional response instead of just a state response.”

Much like in other areas throughout the State, members from the Oklahoma National Guard, alongside the Oklahoma State Department of Health, have helped and will continue to help with testing, contact tracing, decontamination of long term care facilities, transportation of tests, and supply delivery to help support the city in containing the spread of the virus. In fact, Guardsmen have already driven more than 100,000 miles across the State to ensure tests results are found and received within the mandated amount of time.

Aside from those acting as couriers out of Woodward, Oklahoma, the majority of the 12 Air and Army National Guardsmen assigned to Guymon assist with contact tracing and the logistics of periodically moving test sites.

“The Guard has probably doubled my staff here in Guymon…” said Salisbury. “I really appreciate the National Guard coming out and being so willing. Most people don't come to Guymon, Oklahoma, and they've all been great. They've stayed and worked through the weekends and everything else. So I'm very, very thankful for them.”

For the Guardsmen working the testing sites and interacting with residents, helping their fellow Oklahomans was a welcomed change from missions in the past.

“What I have enjoyed most about being on state active duty orders is being able to work with other counterparts such as the Army National Guard as well as civilians,” said Oklahoma Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Shawntoria Miles, a medic with the 137th Special Operations Medical Group in Oklahoma City. “Personally, I have enjoyed serving Oklahomans because it's my home, and knowing that I'm helping out in my own home state makes me really happy. It's one of those fulfilling things that you get from doing something that you love to do. I [served] six years on active duty, so being able to come home and help on the home front is very nice for me.”

Though the exact future of the pandemic in Guymon is unknown, the Oklahoma National Guard, along with other helping agencies, will continue to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Guymon and throughout the State.

“I'm hoping to flatten the curve within the next two weeks,” said Salisbury. "I don't know that it will be possible, but I have high hopes that we can.”