The 1st Medical Brigade, 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, has been crucial supporting COVID-19 efforts in Texas and across the United States since March. As they assist Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in the fight against COVID-19, they continue to solidify themselves as the premier medical brigade in the Army.

The 61st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 1st Med. Bde., has lead efforts at CRDAMC’s COVID-19 testing drive-thru site inside the hospital’s garage since June 29.  

In an effort to reduce the health risks to personnel in CRDAMC, the screening site helps identify people with respiratory illness symptoms before they enter the hospital.

Before the cars move inside the garage where their vitals are taken, they see the medical professionals for Role 2 medical care and possible testing, it’s important to ensure they are there for the right reasons.

“We screen them and make sure they actually need to be here to get tested first,” Staff Sgt. Nelson Smith, healthcare noncommissioned officer-in-charge, 546th Med. Company Area Support, 61st MMB, said.

During the screenings, there are certain criteria that will immediately cause the medics to have the vehicles proceed into the garage.

“If they were exposed to someone who was known to have COVID-19, have been out of Texas within 14 days or are showing symptoms, we will move them in for testing,” Smith said.

With no symptoms, personnel will unfortunately not be tested at the site, and Smith also had one other common instance that results in no test being administered.

“Some people may come in and say their spouse has tested positive and would like to also be tested,” Smith explained. “At that point, we won’t test them here because if one person in the house tests positive, we assume the entire house is positive living in close quarters with each other.”

Once someone is identified to be tested, their samples are taken to CRDAMC and the results typically come back in 72 hours or sooner.

If a patient is identified as needing Role 2 treatment, a system is in place to minimize the possible spread of COVID-19.

“A medic will radio the make, model and license plate of the vehicle so transport can pick them up from their vehicle and take them to Role 2,” Smith said.  “That’s to avoid any possible contamination with rails or if we have a really sick patient to avoid them having to walk themselves.”

The 546th’s command team, Capt. Joshua Gurr and 1st Sgt. Christopher Lane, oversee operations at the site, and Gurr acknowledged the uniqueness of their current fight.

“As leaders, we try to predict the enemy’s movements in order to react to seize moments and capitalize on opportunities,” Gurr said.  “The enemy for our mission is COVID, which is unpredictable.”  

The health of the force is always a priority and it’s something Gurr thinks about as the commander.

“With how contagious it is, I’m concerned about my Soldiers,” Gurr said. “If they are treating a patient, they run the risk of catching COVID themselves. Even after we use all our safety measures and precautions, the risk still exists. So, it’s something we constantly manage.”

Lane praised his Soldiers for their efforts supporting the pandemic.

“It’s a proud moment for me,” Lane said.  “Fighting an unknown enemy like COVID is something a lot of Soldiers don’t get recognized for as if they were fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are doing something greater than themselves and also get to excel at their craft as medical professionals.”

With no end date to when the unit will end support of the drive-thru, the Soldiers are motivated to continue their mission.

“Our teams are prepared to run the station for as long as it takes,” Smith said.

For more information about COVID-19 and testing, please visit https://tricare.mil/CoveredServices/BenefitUpdates/Archives/07_06_2020_TRICARE_FAQs_COVID19_and_Testing