Air National Guard collects COVID-19 samples at GMCF


May 13, 2020

P.J. Glisson/Daily Globe

MEMBERS OF the Air National Guard take a break on Tuesday morning from collecting COVID-19 test samples at Gogebic Medical Care Facility in Wakefield. From left are Willie Hutchinson, NCOIC, SSgt. Elizabeth Handren, and S.A. David Regaldo.


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Wakefield - Members of the state's Air National Guard were in force Tuesday to collect COVID-19 test samples at Gogebic Medical Care Facility in Wakefield.

"We know that we have such a vulnerable population," said Georgia Weber, GMCF administrator, who said the tests were being conducted as part of the nursing home's ongoing infection control processes.

"We're under the direction of the Army," said Willie Hutchinson, NCOIC, who was heading up the operation at GMCF.

He said his group was assigned to go to "different cities, different nursing homes" throughout the month to collect the samples.

"We've been working out of Marquette and Houghton and now Gogebic," said SSgt. Elizabeth Handren, team leader.

Hutchinson said his group was assigned to collect the samples from May 1-31. "This is all they're having us do," he said. "We're doing it for the community and the state."

According to Weber and Hutchinson, the group had started their task at 6 a.m. and were expected to finish by noon.

MSgt. Sabra Guy was in charge of medics giving tests.

"The people here are great to work with - awesome," said Hutchinson, who added that Weber was "super helpful" and that nursing home staff had provided "anything we've asked for."

Weber said GMCF staff took samples from residents, and Hutchinson said his members were there to collect samples from GMCF staff.

Once all samples were collected, he said they would be stored in coolers, and within 72 hours, members of the Michigan State Police would facilitate air transfer of the coolers to a facility in Lansing, where results would be processed.

"Once we do the tests, it's out of our hands," said Hutchinson, who said he did not know when results would be reported.

He added that his group had not, so far, been assigned to collect samples from other nursing homes in this region.

Weber also did not how often testing might occur hereon, but she said nursing home staff have been "wonderful" about following appropriate COVID-19 protocol in relation to screening and other precautions.

"They're doing a fantastic job," she said, adding that she "couldn't ask for a better staff."

Lena Gierl, RN, who is in charge of GMCF's infection prevention, also noted that all families of nursing home residents had been informed in advance of the tests.

Hutchinson, who is originally from Mississippi, said it was interesting to be in this region and that his people already had taken in some local nature via a hike.

"It's all good," he said. "People have been super nice."

All 50 states - as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and some territories - have ANG units, which are federal military reserve forces that also serve as each state's militia air force. ANG units combine with Army National Guard units to compose the National Guard of each state.


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