On the frontlines of a pandemic

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Beaux Hebert
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Many historical events took place in 2020 and most people are ready to move on and focus on the new year. However one thing has followed everyone into 2021, COVID-19.

With the pandemic still ongoing, Eielson Air Force Base has dedicated medical teams focused on combating the virus day in and day out. The Airmen of the 354th Medical Group COVID-19 Clinic and 354th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron Public Health office have had to adapt to the many challenges the virus has thrown at the medical career fields.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Giovanni Cruz is a 354th Healthcare Operations Squadron health service management specialist. He is the Airman talking to patients before entering the clinic and gathering their information about their symptoms. His job requires acute attention to detail to keep records accurate for primary care providers to give the correct type of medical care to patients.

Working alongside him is Senior Airman Toula Farnsworth. She is a 354th OMRS medical technician. Farnsworth is responsible for administering the COVID-19 test. Not everyone who receives a test will test positive so maintaining a sterile environment is crucial. She is also charged with ensuring the test is accurate by preventing cross-contamination.

Although most of the world doesn't experience COVID-19 from the medical perspective, the shock was the same even for those working on the front lines like Farnsworth.

“When COVID-19 first kicked off I didn't realize the impact it would have, especially on a military installation, but when it comes down to the mission, this clinic is needed,” Farnsworth explained. “At first it was crazy coming in and putting on the proper gear to protect not only me but my friends and coworkers. We had people pop positive and I was right there next to them and sometimes the gravity of the situation hit me. But it's good to see that we are taking care of our people and doing what we can to resolve this problem and continue on with our lives.”

Cruz had a similar reaction to getting assigned to the COVID-19 Clinic. 

“When I initially was told I would be over here it was nerve-racking,” Cruz said. “Some days we saw an influx of 40-50 patients a day and with only two of us it got pretty busy. However we are now seeing a decrease in patients coming in and it’s great to see things are getting better.”

Supporting Farnsworth and Cruz in the COVID clinic is the 354th OMRS Public Health team. Airman 1st Class Shawn Savann, a 354th OMRS Public Health technician, works directly with those who are positive for COVID-19 and begins the steps of contact tracing. Savann also logs the results of positive tests into the Air Force Disease Reporting System which records disease trends amongst Airmen.

“It was crazy when COVID-19 started hitting Eielson,” Savann said. “We had a lot of people very concerned about contracting this virus. Our job was to make sure everyone knew and followed the guidance given by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] in order to keep us safe. There was a lot of planning that we did to be ready for our first case and it paid off the end. It’s important that we keep following these guidelines so we can make it out on top.”

For the better part of a year the world has witnessed the worst pandemic in recent history. On the front lines of the fight against the virus are Eielson Airmen like Cruz, Farnsworth, Savann and the rest of the 354th Medical Group staff who stand with the thousands of medical technicians, public health experts, nurses and doctors across the country working tirelessly in hopes of seeing an end to COVID-19. 

“It’s important the Airmen understand the gravity of what they are doing during this pandemic,” said Master Sgt. Karen Edwards, the 354th OMRS Public Health flight chief. “We have to give a lot of credit to the technicians who made it happen. Without them, we would be in a totally different situation.”