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A Safe Return to Vermont: Airmen Test Negative for COVID-19

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Staff Sgt. Corbin Bailey and Lt. Col. Sarah Davis, assigned to the 158th Medical Group, Vermont Air National Guard, screen and test members of the 134th Fighter Squadron and 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard, for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), South Burlington, Vt., August 21, 2020. Upon their return from the deployment to Northern Lightning in Volk Field, Wis., members of the Vermont Air National Guard were tested for COVID-19, all of which produced negative results. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Ms. Julie M. Shea)

Vermont Air National Guard --

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt., (Sept. 2, 2020) -- Upon their return from last month’s deployment to Northern Lightning in Volk Field, Wis., members of the Vermont Air National Guard were tested for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), all of which have produced negative results.

To accomplish this, leadership from the 158th Fighter Wing followed strict Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Vermont Department of Health risk mitigation measures, to include: screening, restriction of movement, social distancing, mask wearing and asymptomatic testing.

"Overall, the testing was a resounding success. It was an effort between the State of Vermont, Vermont Department of Health, the SNS warehouse, our Joint Force Headquarters team, as well as the Wing and the medical folks at Volk Field," said Lt. Col. Michael Romp, officer in charge of public health for the Vermont Air National Guard.

The decision to test all members came after concern that the Green Mountain Boys were to travel to Wisconsin for this deployment, a destination where diagnosed COVID-19 cases were more prevalent than in their home state of Vermont, according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker, which records all COVID-19 cases reported to the CDC since January 21, 2020.

Approximately 100 Airmen assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard were tested at varying times throughout the two-week exercise at Volk Field, to ensure any potential outbreaks could be tracked. All Vermont Air National Guardsmen tested both on-site in Wisconsin and in Vermont have tested negative for COVID-19.

"We had a robust plan in place before they even arrived in Wisconsin. We screened everybody on the way out, with questions and temperature checks before they got on the plane. All of the units coming into the exercise had those requirements. When they arrived at Volk Field, all of the pilots, basically all of the operators, were tested," said Romp. "They had a pretty robust quarantine and isolation plan, if somebody needed to be treated. Luckily, we didn't have to execute that plan at all."

While the Green Mountain Boys were there, access off-base was limited for essential travel only and on-base lodging was separated by sections, limiting contact with both the public and other Northern Lightning participants. Both social distancing and mask wearing were enforced, and there were daily screenings and temperature checks for all participants. Upon return to Vermont on August 21, Airmen were immediately tested for COVID-19, twelve of whom had also just taken a test prior to leaving Volk Field.

"We were in constant contact with [Volk Field] before the exercise until well after, to make sure that folks safely arrived there, are safe while they are at the exercise, and then ensuring that they were safe - and their families were safe - when they returned," said Romp.

"Airmen, soldiers, civilians. It was definitely an intra- and inter-organizational success. And that has been the Wing Commander's policy from the beginning is to do the best we can: best mitigation, best preventative, following the CDC and state guidelines while still getting the mission done.”

Until there is an effective COVID-19 vaccine available, similar precautions and screening will continue to take place for upcoming Vermont Air National Guard training movements and deployments, according to Romp.