EAST CHINA SEA - Sailors aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) received nasal swab tests to determine whether or not they had contracted COVID-19.
Within the week, all test results came back negative.
Much of the ship’s success at fighting the pandemic can be attributed to its COVID-19 rapid response team (CRRT). Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Clint Woods, from Fairmount, Ind., a critical Sailor behind the team’s success, is the team’s lead and Germantown’s preventative medicine technician (PMT).
“I came up with the idea during our last underway period to start a rapid response team on board,” said Woods, whose job as the ship’s PMT put him in charge of mitigating COVID-19. “We were juggling a lot of evolutions, and our relatively small medical team ensured that all COVID-19 risks were being mitigated. We had to properly sanitize everything.”
In March, during the early phases of Navy COVID-19 policy development, Woods realized it would take a much bigger team than just the ship’s medical personnel to prevent COVID-19 from getting on board the ship, he said.
“It was all about being available to be at more than one place at a time,” said Woods. “I needed people I could train and trust to be an asset in the fight against the coronavirus, people willing to push back against the pandemic.”
On April 6, Germantown’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Christopher Causee, designated 15 CRRT members of various backgrounds, representing each shipboard department.
Woods said Germantown’s medical department spent more than a month training CRRT members on everything from proper personal protective equipment wear to disinfectant and quarantine procedures. He said they are also trained to help with COVID-19 testing, and are certified under the Health and Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to handle patient records the same way a hospital corpsman might.
“Each CRRT member has stepped up in such a big way,” said Woods. “They have no problem dropping whatever they are doing for their regular work and hopping into an evolution to support all of the medical team’s efforts. We made sure they were more capable than the average Sailor of identifying COVID-19 related risks and carrying out the proper procedures when mitigating those risks.”
It is now commonplace to see Sailors wiping down surfaces around the ship with disinfectant two-to-three times each day. In addition to regular flight deck crews, members of the CRRT equipped with handheld sprayers now stand ready at the flight line to disinfect incoming supplies delivered by helicopter. Other members stand nearby, disinfectant solution in hand, ready to spray each wrapped pallet as it is brought off the flight deck.
“Our ship was underway when the COVID-19 pandemic started, and we had to come up with a plan to remain free of the virus, keep our crew safe, and continue on with our mission,” said Lt. Kimberley Engols, from Sierra Vista, Ariz., Germantown’s dental officer and appointed “COVID officer.”
“Our first few planning meetings consisted of gathering the limited available data of the virus and finding ways to adapt protocol to our unique shipboard environment,” said Engols. “Working in confined spaces where distancing Sailors is challenging, we realized how strict protocol needed to be in order to prevent COVID-19 from entering our ship.”
Engols added that Germantown’s protocol is adapted from CDC recommendations to meet Navy operational requirements. It is continuously reviewed as new evidence emerges about transmission and disinfection, she said.
While his team’s actions have not always been convenient for Germantown’s crew, Woods said everyone understands the importance of setting a new routine for life aboard a warship during a pandemic.
Woods said the CRRT is responsible for implementing strict social distancing controls underway by periodically shutting down the gyms and ship’s store, limiting the number of personnel eating on the mess decks at once, and maintaining a 6-foot distance between Sailors in line for chow. The team also ensures that masks are worn properly by every member of the crew.
“Everyone on board recognizes how serious the virus has become,” said Woods. “Even if these decisions are unpopular, they are necessary, and I have the CRRT members to thank for all of their incredible work enforcing these policies.”
Engols said the CRRT has played a vital role in keeping Germantown’s crew safe.
“The team continues to adapt to our mission and is ready to muster at any time of day as needed in response to any potential threat vectors,” said Engols. “Fighting COVID-19 on-ship, and keeping Germantown and our embarked crews safe and ready to take on our mission, is important. We are fortunate to have a team trained and ready.”
Woods said he agrees that the CRRT’s goal is keeping everyone on the ship healthy.
“We haven’t had a single case of COVID-19 on the ship, and I recognize that as evidence of how effective our team has been,” said Woods. “If we can keep concern about coronavirus at the back of everyone’s mind and allow Sailors to focus first on all the hard work they are doing on a daily basis at sea, then I know we are on the right track to beat this virus. My team’s ability to adapt and overcome has been phenomenal and has made all the difference in keeping our crew safe from coronavirus.”
Germantown is scheduled to conduct another routine test of its entire crew for COVID-19 in the coming weeks, said Woods.
Germantown, part of America Expeditionary Strike Group, is operating in the 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners, and serves as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.