In the weeks since the District declared a state of emergency amid the coronavirus pandemic, the DC Medical Reserve Corps has received volunteer applications from hundreds of adults, of various backgrounds and levels of experience in the medical profession, who live in the D.C. metropolitan area.
The DC Medical Reserve Corps, in existence since the 2000s, supports the DC Department of Health in matters of public health emergency preparedness and response, much like what the District and the rest of the world is currently experiencing. Before entering the field, volunteers train with members of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Administration and learn about various aspects of the job, but none, perhaps, deemed more important than protecting oneself.
“We learned how to put on the personal protective equipment and how to take it off. It seemed to be the one thing they’re focusing on,” said Erin Lampron, a wife and mother of three from Vienna, Virginia, who attended last weekend’s medical reserve corps training at the DC Armory, the second of more to be scheduled.
During the training, she and dozens of other volunteers learned to execute some of their responsibilities as medical reserve corps members, including the collection of specimens during coronavirus testing. Despite the risk, health care workers and volunteers face in contracting the coronavirus, Lampron, while recalling memories of 9/11 and the D.C. sniper shootings, said she felt a sense of responsibility to assist in efforts to curb the coronavirus.
“They want to make sure we do it the right way,” Lampron told The Informer. “They taught us how to swab the nostril and take a sample. They fit us for a respirator. I thought the swab part would be very scary, but it wasn’t so bad.”
According to figures given by a D.C. Department of Health official, the DC Medical Reserve Corps currently has 3,300 members, 2,600 of whom recently applied. During training, volunteers learn emergency preparedness techniques. From that point on, they will remain on call to assist in either medical screening, patient tracking, distribution of medical supplies and assistance during planned and unplanned events.
On Saturday morning, nearly 40 people, wearing either jeans or sweats, started along their journey as medical reserve corps members. They stood around the main auditorium of the DC Armory, in spacious clusters and several feet away from uniformed service members, as they practiced social distancing and the proper application of their respirators, gloves and gowns.
That night, just hours after training ended, the health department reported that the number of District-based coronavirus deaths reached five, with the latest death following that of George Valentine, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel. This month, the department has reported more than 340 positive cases of the coronavirus, 38 of which had been recorded over the weekend.
Since the District’s first positive coronavirus case, at least a dozen D.C. firefighters counted among those who contracted it. In hospitals across the region, health care workers have reportedly expressed fears that they could spread COVID-19 to loved ones and patients.
Often, Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt has spoken about the need to protect health care workers and preserve the stock of personal protective equipment, otherwise known as PPEs. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), in her appeals to the Trump administration and Congress members for equitable support, espoused the District’s need for an organized and federally funded medical supply chain.
Since declaring a public health state of emergency, the D.C. government has spent more than $53 million in combating the coronavirus, a portion of which was used for the purchase of PPEs and ventilators. In the launch of coronavirus sites, health care workers who have a referral and show coronavirus symptoms have priority at drive-through and walk-through testing sites opening in the District — including MedStar, Kaiser Permanente sites and one soon coming to United Medical Center at a time not disclosed by health department officials.
Saturday’s medical reserve corps training happened in partnership with the D.C. Fire Department and the GW Medical Faculty Associates. Patrick Ashley, senior deputy director of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Administration, said his office will work with volunteers and place them, in what he described as support missions, at drive-thru and walk-through testing sites in various roles.
“We have at least one more training planned. There will be additional training as the response continues to evolve,” Ashley told The Informer. “As part of the application process, we ask about their professional credentials and what missions are the most appropriate. Within their scope of practice, some learn about the medical missions and nonmedical [volunteers] support the mission in administrative and operational tasks and supporting overall.”