Boots on the ground: AmeriCorps members help prepare COVID-19 test kits

Washington Conservation Corps AmeriCorps members are helping assemble COVID-19 test kits to support the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are serving alongside the National Guard in partnership with Department of Health.

Responding to community needs

When WCC’s field activities were temporarily suspended in mid-March to prevent further spread of COVID-19, crew members switched to environmental tele-service projects. Some have had the opportunity to donate blood or support their local communities by serving at food banks or setting up shelters for people to isolate and recover from COVID-19.

Assembling test kits has been a welcome shift from tele-service projects for AmeriCorps members eager to help.

“It’s amazing to go straight from [tele-service] to a point of helping out directly with the situation affecting not only our state, but our nation and world. It’s a powerful thing to be here,” said AmeriCorps member Damien Homiak, one of 10 deployed to support test kit assembly since May 4.

Group of AmeriCorps members wearing masks gather at a table filled with stacks of medical supplies.

WCC AmeriCorps members discuss implications of repetitive motion activities as part of their safety meetings. 

Preparing materials for test kits

Based out of a state medical supply facility in Tumwater, AmeriCorps members are preparing federally-provided materials National Guard soldiers use to assemble test kits to ship  to Washington communities. Members separate different types of swabs or vials for test kit assembly, sort shipments of nasal swabs and vials to make sure each batch is tested for contamination, and track material status.

Each day, members’ activities fluctuate, based on the availability of materials and the status in which the supplies arrive.  “It’s a lot of detail work,” said crew supervisor Emily Landrus. “We will change tasks quickly to adapt to emerging needs.”

Maintaining energy and motivation

As demand for testing materials increased, the National Guard added another team of soldiers to assemble kits in late May. And our crews were ready for the challenge. By May 27, WCC members and staff had sorted 91,499 vials and swabs, cut 84,700 absorbent squares, and prepared 59,497 small test bags for test kit assembly.

AmeriCorps members sit spaced out along tables with stacks of medical supplies on them.

Deployment photos contributed by Josh Coulter.

In addition, our WCC members and staff have also produced 2,229 test kits themselves.

“Our assembly line serves a support role for getting the test kits getting completed and we have been fortunate enough to have gone through the whole process from start to finish,” said WCC supervisor Josh Coulter.

Although putting thousands of test-kits together can be repetitive, members share a big-picture perspective on the opportunity.

“We do get a little bogged down on the details and counting [at times], but it’s cool to remember that this is truly a meaningful disaster response project,” said AmeriCorps member Vered Serotta.

As part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan for a phased re-opening, Washington counties must demonstrate they have adequate personal protective equipment to keep health care workers safe and be able to make testing available and accessible to everyone in the county with COVID-19 symptoms.