Dental Professor Leads Texas Air National Guard Medics At COVID-19 Testing Sites
Karl Woodmansey*, clinical assistant professor in endodontics at the Texas A&M University College of Dentistry, has been supervising medics at COVID-19 testing sites in West Texas since late May.
Woodmansey, along with numerous Air National Guard and Texas Army National Guard teams, was activated as part of a federal and state emergency issued by Gov. Greg Abbott, who was authorized by the president to call up the state National Guard in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As an officer in charge for “Joint Mission,” Woodmansey oversees one of eight teams at various sites around El Paso.
Each morning, Woodmansey’s five-medic team sets up a small canopy, usually near a sweltering-hot concrete parking lot as temperatures soar past 100. Medics in personal protective equipment are out in the sun most of the day as they tend to car after car of patients possibly infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
Woodmansey oversees the entire process, including correctly obtaining and maintaining the samples, labeling each to match patients’ names and identifications, then appropriately storing and transporting them. Just as important, he says, is being responsible for the medics’ personal safety while they work with potentially infected patients.
“We’ve kind of become a de facto family group,” he said.
Seeing entire families who are obviously msuffering pulls at the heart strings, and Woodmansey said swabbing children is the hardest. Yet, being at the testing sites reminds him of why he signed up for the National Guard in the first place: to give.
“One of the common talking points of this mission is, ‘Texas helping Texans,'” he said. “I am proud to be helping Texans, glad to be contributing, happy to be serving in a useful capacity.”
With six days per week, Woodmansey said the days can all blend together.
“It’s kind of like ‘Groundhog Day’ every day. We get up, we go to a site, we set up, cars start lining up, and we do testing all day,” he said. “Then we take down our equipment stored in a big Penske truck, load our 17 personnel into our two passenger vans and drive back to our hotel.”
The team’s workload took an uptick recently when swabbing went from between 100 to 150 patients per day to nearly 250. On that particular Friday, dozens of cars snaked back so far that Woodsmansey couldn’t see the end of the line.
“My site was swamped. The populace is panicked now,” he said. “All testing sites had lines, lines, lines. It was a brutal day. I think I had a 10-minute break in that whole eight-hour day. It was chaos. We’re pedaling as fast as we can.”
As the pandemic surges, the guard’s work is far from over. What was supposed to be a one-month mission has turned into two. As July 31 nears, Woodmansey said he wonders if his extended end date will be pushed back again, like it has for some of his fellow team members.
“I miss my contact with the dental students and endodontic residents, as well as my faculty colleagues. I miss teaching and I miss dentistry. I look forward to returning to A&M,” he said.
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