By Tech. Sgt. Kasey Phipps
Oklahoma National Guard
Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard members help conduct COVID-19 testing at the Texas County Activity Center in Guymon, Oklahoma, May 16, 2020. Guymon had more cases of the coronavirus - 650 - than any other city in the state but Oklahoma City. Guymon ranks 40th in state population, while Oklahoma City has the most people of any city in the state.
GUYMON, Okla. – The Oklahoma Air and Army National Guard is helping the Oklahoma State Department of Health and other state and federal agencies control the spread of COVID-19 in some of the state’s most affected areas, including the “hot spot” of Guymon.
As of May 19, Guymon had 650 confirmed cases of COVID-19, second only to Oklahoma City, which has the largest population of any city in the state. Guymon, by contrast, ranks 40th in population.
“We have what they term a ‘hot spot’ or an ‘outbreak’ of COVID-19 in Guymon,” said Terri Salisbury, Oklahoma State Department of Health regional director. “We are utilizing the National Guard to assist us because we have more than 600 cases. Not only do we have to test even more of the population in order to identify all the positives, but we also have to notify those cases and the contacts in order for isolation to occur.”
A “hot spot” is defined by the number of cases per capita compared to that of the state or nation. As of May 19, Guymon exceeded Oklahoma’s rate of 1.4 cases per 1,000 residents, with 57.6 cases per 1,000 residents. Most of the cases were traced to the Seaboard Foods pork processing plant, which is classified as an essential business and produces roughly 4.2 million pounds of pork products a day while employing 2,700 people from the county and surrounding states.
On May 15, leaders from the Oklahoma National Guard, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma State University laboratories, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, visited with experts at locations in Guymon particularly affected by the coronavirus.
Beginning at the Memorial Hospital of Texas County and moving to the Texas County Health Department and the Seaboard Foods pork plant, the group scrutinized facility layouts and supply, resource and staffing shortages.
“You all are on the front lines of the fight, and this is where the most asymmetrical risk is,” Oklahoma Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, the commander of the Oklahoma Governor’s Task Force, said to Guymon health care workers. “We could be at the beginning of a surge that overwhelms the system and capacity here, more than likely requiring a regional response instead of just a state response.”
Members from the Oklahoma National Guard and the Oklahoma State Department of Health continue to help try to contain the virus by testing, volunteer contact tracing, decontaminating long-term care facilities, and delivering supplies.
Aside from those acting as couriers out of Woodward, most of the 12 Air and Army National Guard members assigned to Guymon assist with contact tracing and the logistics of periodically moving test sites.
“The Guard has probably doubled my staff here in Guymon,” said Salisbury. “I really appreciate the National Guard coming out and being so willing. Most people don’t come to Guymon, Oklahoma, and they’ve all been great. They’ve stayed and worked through the weekends and everything else. So I’m very, very thankful for them.”
For the Guard members working at the testing sites and interacting with residents, helping fellow Oklahomans is a welcome change from previous missions.
“What I have enjoyed most about being on state active-duty orders is being able to work with other counterparts such as the Army National Guard as well as civilians,” said Oklahoma Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Shawntoria Miles, a medic with the 137th Special Operations Medical Group in Oklahoma City.
“Personally, I have enjoyed serving Oklahomans because it’s my home, and knowing that I’m helping out in my own home state makes me really happy,” she said. “It’s one of those fulfilling things that you get from doing something that you love to do. I [served] six years on active duty, so being able to come home and help on the home front is very nice for me.”
The Oklahoma National Guard, along with other helping agencies, will continue to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Guymon and throughout the state.
“I’m hoping to flatten the curve within the next two weeks,” said Salisbury. “I don’t know that it will be possible, but I have high hopes that we can.”