In January 2021, as COVID-19 cases were reaching the previous peak in the U.S., a small team of Coast Guard reservists helped to set up a large-scale testing program at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (CGA).
The testing program was developed to help meet the needs of the service academy to facilitate in-person classroom learning and meet NCAA testing requirements for athletic competitors.
As rapid antigen testing became more widely available, the change allowed a team comprised mostly non-medical personnel to set up an efficient and effective testing program. Non-medical personnel can perform antigen testing, and results are returned in a matter of 15 minutes. By comparison, the previously used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests must be administered by technicians, and take several hours to deliver results.
The reserve team worked at the Academy throughout the year administering approximately 45,000 tests to CGA personnel that met both Coast Guard and NCAA testing requirements, as well as state reporting mandates.
During their time at the Academy, most of the reservists, like Petty Officer Second Class Raymond Bressingham, a machinery technician, had opportunities to develop specialized skills that greatly contributed to the success of the testing program.
Bressingham, who is also a New York City firefighter, served as the testing program administrator, establishing business practices, working with internal and external stakeholders, and supervising program personnel and operations.
Petty Officers Second Class Angela Troska, a gunner’s mate, and Raymond Nakelski, an electronics technician, became certified COVID-19 contact tracers, conducting interviews with those who tested positive to gather information on when, where, and with whom these individuals had recently been in contact. These contact tracing efforts continue to be instrumental in limiting the spread of the virus.
Petty Officers Third Class Nutteda Getgavipak-Latimer, a boatswain’s mate, and Christopher Farnkoff, a health services technician, rounded out the team that also provided real-time COVID data and other critical information to decision makers that allowed the Academy to continue operations throughout the pandemic.
“The work done by this team was a big reason why we were able to keep moving forward during this unprecedented time we are still living through,” said Rear Adm. Bill Kelly, academy superintendent. “This is a textbook example of the Coast Guard working to leverage the skills of the reserve workforce to solve the complex problems facing our service.”