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Idaho guard members help out at COVID-19 testing sites, freeing healthcare workers to tackle growing caseload

About 100 members of the Idaho Air and Army National Guard began training Thursday at the Saint Alphonsus Health Plaza.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — You could call this a case of "heroes helping heroes."  

About 100 members of the Idaho Air and Army National Guard began training Thursday at the Saint Alphonsus Health Plaza in Meridian.

As Gov. Brad Little announced on Friday, the guard members will assist civilian healthcare providers who are now facing record numbers of COVID-19 patients.

"Our ultimate goal here is to relieve our civilian healthcare providers from some of the routine tasks that they've been doing here for a long time and be able to free them up, as the governor and his team have stated, to be able to be more directly involved in patient care aspect of it," said Brigadier Gen. Russell Johnson.

Mark Nassir, the president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Group, explained that the growing demand for healthcare workers is being felt around the state and the Idaho Nation Guard's help allows them to move manpower around.

"It also enables us to send some of our, our health care workers to other clinics that have had to shut down temporarily in order to continue the coronavirus operations here," he said.

An official with the medical group added that more troops will be trained on Monday and the ones who have already been through training are now at the sites.

Those on the front line described how they are helping out:

"Today I am working in the laboratory, so the actual testing of the results - strep throat [and] COVID, of course," said Sr. Airman Emily Berry. "COVID-19 is the biggest one that we're focusing on."

"Today I was placed on traffic control, so I am essentially helping screen people that need appointments, have appointments, if they need to go inside we ask them a checklist of questions, and make sure they're able to go inside," said Specialist Hudson Martin.

The guard members said they are appreciative of everything healthcare workers are doing to keep our community safe.

"Thank you to all the medical professionals," Berry said. "That's huge they're doing such great work, so thank you."

Because the governor's proclamation was just a few days ago, the Idaho National Guard is still evaluating some requests for help around the state.

The guard's pandemic response mission is set for 30 days. At that point, they'll evaluate the effect as officials look at what to do next.

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