National Guard Called in to Disinfect Nursing Homes

17th Civil Engineer Squadron Pest Controller Omar Martinez, walks around a classroom dispersing a disinfectant mist on all surfaces at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. (Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seraiah Wolf)

UPDATE — A team of specially trained Alabama National Guard troops is expected Saturday at the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home as part of a mission to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus at nursing homes around the state.

In a news release issued today, the state Department of Public Health said Guard troops will be disinfecting nursing homes where patients and employees have tested positive for COVID-19  and will train staff at the homes in the proper use of personal protective equipment.

“I’m glad Gov. (Kay) Ivey asked us to take on this important mission,” Maj. Gen. Sheryl E. Gordon, the state Guard adjutant general, said in a statement. “Our specially trained soldiers are prepared to assist nursing homes as they fight the spread of COVID-19.”

According to Alabama Nursing Home Association spokesman John Matson, 60 nursing homes in 34 of the state’s 67 counties have reported at least one COVID-19 case.

The virus has hit particularly hard at a nursing home in Opelika, which has had an outbreak with 79 cases, the Montgomery Advertiser reported Thursday.

At the Alexander City-based Bill Nichols Veterans Home, the state Department of Veterans Affairs recently reported that 25 residents had tested positive for COVID-19 and that two of those who had tested positive had died. The two veterans, 89 and 99 years of age, also had other ailments, and Assistant State Veterans Affairs Commissioner Bob Horton said “a formal report” was pending on the actual cause of their deaths.

At the same time, the veterans affairs department reported that 18 employees at the Nichols home had tested positive for the virus, as had two employees at the William F. Green State Veterans Home in Bay Minette. The four homes house about 700 veterans.

In a late-afternoon news release, the veterans affairs department stated that once the Guard troops finished their work at Nichols, they would head to the Green home as well as to the state’s two other veterans homes – Tut Fann in Huntsville and Robert L. Howard in Pell City.

Lt. Col. Tim Alexander, public affairs director at Alabama Guard headquarters, said as many as 300 soldiers and airmen could be involved in the nursing home effort, depending on the number of teams formed.

In an email, Alexander said the teams would be formed “from a multitude of units across the state” and would be part of a task force.

Matson said in an email that the association was contacting each of its member nursing homes to tell them about the coming Guard assistance and would share their contact information with the Guard. The Guard will prioritize where it sends its troops, Matson said.

Matson said the state has 231 nursing homes with approximately 24,500 residents, with at least one home in every county.

“Your typical long-term care resident is 85-plus years old,” Matson said. “However, we care for people with disabilities and those individuals could be younger.”

According to the World Health Organization, those over 60 years of age are at higher risk of getting severe COVID-19 disease.