Tribes, Nevada Guard combine efforts for COVID-19 testing

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Senior Airman Kayla Warner, 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, collects COVID-19 test samples at a community based collection site at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in Reno, Nev., July 24, 2020. The Nevada National Guard CBCS team performed 27 mobile collection sites across Nevada in June and July, including 10 on tribal land. (Air National Guard photograph by 2nd Lt. Emerson Marcus)
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Nevada Army Guard Spec. Jermaine Longmire usually says “hello” when people drive through a Nevada National Guard-run COVID-19 community-based collection site.

But this summer he’s also said “How u” and “Behne” — both Paiute and Shoshone greetings, respectively.

“I’ve especially enjoyed working with the tribes because of the people and relationships I’ve made,” said Longmire, 25, who makes it a priority to learn the language of each tribe he’s visited, getting most of his tips from Cassandra Darrough, tribal emergency preparedness coordinator at the Nevada Division of Emergency Management.

“Spec. Longmire and the rest of the Nevada National Guard have done a fantastic job coordinating these efforts to keep the tribes safe,” Darrough said. “It’s been a seamless effort with DEM, the Guard and the tribes.

From the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe in Nye County to the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe along Nevada’s northern border with Oregon, the Nevada National Guard aided tribes and rural communities around the state in their efforts to track the spread of COVID-19 this summer. During the last two months, the Nevada National Guard setup and operated 27 mobile, drive-thru collection sites with 10 of them on tribal land. These “strike teams” collected more than 10,000 test swabs in rural and tribal communities.

“This is really a historic moment,” said 2nd Lt. Kim Garback, the military officer in charge at the community-based collection sites. “This is a massive undertaking.”

Remote locations and cultural hurdles present unique challenges for the sample collection teams, Garback said.

That’s why he instituted a cultural immersion orientation with his soldiers before setting up the COVID-19 sample collection sites, often held near community centers or Tribal health clinics.

“We can’t just walk in and say, ‘Hey, fellow Americans…’ There are different cultural elements we need to be aware of. We have to work to understand that,” Garback, of the 1859th Transportation Company, Nevada Army National Guard, said during a sample-collection site at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony on July 24. “We want to help them on their terms, and that includes understanding their culture and language before we enter any of the 27 tribal nations in Nevada.” Garback emphasized the importance of avoiding generic words such as “Native American,” preferring more specific identifiers: Western Shoshone, Northern & Southern Paiute or Washoe.

Garback oversees a team of about seven soldiers, including Longmire, to set up each site. An additional three to five Nevada Guard medics perform swab sample collection. The Nevada Guard’s large-scale, static sample-collection sites with about 80 personnel — two in Clark and one in Washoe — can collect up to 1,800 samples a day. The rural and tribal collection sites with about an eighth of the staff, collect about 200 samples each day, often varying on the interest in the community.

For Tribes, fear lies in the spread of close-knit, remote communities.

Alfreida Jake, Elko Band Te-moak Tribe environmental coordinator and emergency manager, said her tribe began to worry about COVID-19 after someone in the tribe’s community center tested positive for COVID-19 in early July.

“We sent out a declaration to our people and put a curfew on,” Jake said. “That’s when everybody started getting afraid of it.”

Jake contacted the Division of Emergency Management and within a week Guardsmen arrived and setup a collection site.

“(Longmire) talked with our people and wasn’t shy,” she said. “He went that extra mile to learn. I was impressed with the Guard.”

Rural and tribal sites test asymptomatic and symptomatic cases. The goal is to pinpoint outbreaks quickly before they spread and then work to facilitate appropriate response and support for the community. The Nevada Guard is set for another CBCS visit to rural Nevada and tribes in Esmeralda County the last week of August.

“Testing is important because it’s impossible to fight an enemy without knowing where it is,” said Darrough, DEM’s Tribal coordinator and member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. “How do you defend your community if you don’t know where the illness is or where it’s moving? To find out where it is, we have to do the testing. Thanks to the assistance and support of the Guard, and from NDEM, our Tribes are building new capacity to test on their own as well as continue to provide support to their communities. Obviously, the operation the Guard conducted has been successful.”
 
 
 

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