A Colorado National Guard soldier who tested positive for coronavirus while engaged in a disease containment effort was not wearing personal protective gear until he contracted it, officials from the Guard said.
There was no requirement for the 30-year-old male soldier who tested positive for the virus to wear protective gear, since he wasn’t working a test lane, Colorado Guard spokeswoman 2nd Lt. Katherine Lee told Army Times.
While he was not directly engaged in any test site activities, he was still screened daily, including by having his temperature taken.
One of those medical screenings helped determine he was infected. The soldier had been deployed to the Denver and Telluride testing sites on March 14 and 17, respectively.
“As soon as the service member became symptomatic, he put on a mask, and self-isolated March 18 at an undisclosed location in Colorado Springs in accordance with [public health] guidelines,” Lee said in an email.
Colorado public health officials told the Guard that the soldier likely contracted the virus during previous travel, but an investigation is ongoing.
The soldier was moved to an isolation site at Fort Carson on March 21 to receive better care, according to the Guard.
“He did not visit any other parts of the installation or any off-post locations during this movement,” the spokesperson said.
Fifteen other Colorado Guard members who were in casual contact with the soldier were transported off the mission and are in self-isolation. They are not showing symptoms of coronavirus at this time, but will be tested if they are symptomatic, according to the Guard.
New personnel replaced them on the coronavirus containment mission, which the Guard said is ongoing today and is necessary to assist local and state authorities during the crisis.
Spokespeople at the Colorado Guard did not know if the lack of masks for those not directly involved in the testing lanes was because of limited medical supplies, an issue that has been commonplace across the United States during the pandemic.
Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau said Sunday night that all troops will have the protective gear they need to perform their missions.
“Nobody will be asked to do anything without proper equipment,” he told reporters during a telephone call. “Like the rest of the country, we are concerned about the total quantities of masks.”
He added that federal or state agencies tasking Guard troops with coronavirus duties will provide some of the needed equipment as well. Though, there are some concerns about how long those supplies will last.
“We are concerned with the duration of the oncoming onslaught,” he said. “This is an history event. It requires an history response."
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that the Colorado National Guard does not require troops to wear protective equipment if they’re not working test lanes.
Kyle Rempfer was an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.