Citizen Soldiers work to slow the growth of COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Sgt. Terry Rajsombath

In an effort to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus, members of the Rhode Island National Guard (RING) are rapidly working in coordination with the Rhode Island Department of Health and Brown University medical students to link confirmed COVID-19 cases and their contacts.

“We’re reaching out to patients that have called the Department of Health who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19,” said Maj. William Almond, director of communications and project lead for the contact tracing team. “Our soldiers are reaching out, based on the information we receive from the Department of Health, and making cold calls to those folks; the idea behind that is to mitigate the spread as best as we can.”

Contact tracing is a process where an infected individual is identified and anyone the person has been in contact with is notified that he or she may have been exposed to the disease. Based upon the individual’s response, that person may be referred to medical care for proper treatment.

“We call a contact whether or not they are showing symptoms,” said Spc. Matthew Hardrow, an infantryman assigned to A Co 1-182nd Infantry Regiment. “On average, you do three case calls per day but it all depends on the case itself. You could have a case where a patient was symptomatic and live with four people, so you have to call them all and ask them all the same questions.”

Hardrow said that many people respond with shock to his phone call. He said some are upset but he does his best to reassure that he and his fellow Soldiers are there to help to the best of their abilities. Some contacts ask health questions that Hardrow and his teammates are not trained to answer but volunteer medical students from Brown University are able to step in and field the calls.

“It’s been very nice for us to be helpful and use our medical knowledge,” said Alec Kinczewski, a medical student with Brown University. “The school’s been very supportive of the effort over here; both encouraging us to come, but also to use the technological resources at Brown to try and find ways to leverage apps and different programs to help identify cases of COVID-19.”

Kinczewski is an U.S. Army veteran himself, having spent eight years active duty as a signal officer. He said that he’s happy to be around men and women in uniform once more and that the contact tracing team shows the versatility of members of the National Guard.

“While tracking down the contacts, a few have tested positive,” said Kinczewski. "This is incredibly important work because in order to flatten the curve we need to find people to say, ‘Hey, you really need to stay in. You need to do a legit quarantine, not just social distancing,’ I mean, we’re able to use some 11B (infantryman) for that? It’s kind of wild where those are the people who are gonna make a difference from this thing being a true disaster.”

Hardrow said that he’s very proud to be able to serve during the pandemic.

“It’s made me realize that you’re doing something better for the community and Rhode Island as a whole,” said Hardrow. “Just last week I was working at my civilian job and this week, I’m working with the Department of Health trying to stop a pandemic. It’s really eye opening and it’s humbling most of all.”