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Ohio National Guard Helps At New OSU COVID Testing Site

Master Sergeant Bob Stephens got his latest orders in late December. The mission 'Operation Respite' aimed to help area hospitals struggling with staffing due to COVID.

"I originally was active duty Air Force in August of 1986. I spent six years on active duty," said Master Sergeant Stephens.

The Lancaster, Ohio native who now calls Grove City home signed up for the National Guard 24 years ago. He is one of about 20 Ohio National Guard members helping at the new OSU COVID test site at CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society.

“Duties range from directing traffic, guiding people into the building, to registration to putting the hazmat bags on the windshield, before they come up to get the test itself. The majority of the members are actually doing the swabbing,” he said.

Stephens, whose missions include several at home and overseas in the midst of war, had a battle of his own with the Coronavirus.

“I've had it twice myself. So I was lucky enough to come through it. But there's other people; they're not coming through, " said Stephens.

He volunteered because he knows firsthand the importance of testing.

"The testing is tremendous. It's something that needs done. So when they called me up, I think it was December 20, I volunteered.“

Although this medical mission is unique, being sent in to lend a hand, help clean up, or literally stand guard is nothing new. This is Stephens' sixth assignment since 2018.

"I've been doing it long enough that I'm pretty flexible. They tell me where to report and I just report, find out what I need to do and start working. Everybody else is pretty flexible like that also. We come in, we see what needs to be done and we just get the job done, “ he said.

Flexible or not, the pandemic that we have all been living through for about two years has tested the strongest in society. There has been a huge surge in COVID cases due to the highly contagious omicron variant.

The new large drive-up COVID test site at CAS can do up to 1,000 tests a day.

"This is actually the fourth time we've moved this operation in the pandemic. The team that we've been working with all throughout this time has been together, and fortunately, we've gotten pretty good at doing this work. And we're really proud of what we have set up at CAS now, “ said Christine Harsh, the Director of Ambulatory Services at OSU Wexner Medical Center and Director of Operations at the CAS COVID testing site.

Harsh said the importance of testing at this time can't be understated.

"It's just one tool that we have in our pandemic, for patients to understand their testing status. Especially if they're symptomatic themselves or their family member is symptomatic, or if they've had exposure to a confirmed case of COVID. We're really striving to provide as much testing access as we can, “ she said.

Harsh said the Ohio National Guard has been invaluable at the site, but for Master Sergeant Stephens it's just another important mission and part of his job as a guardsman.

“Yeah, I mean, that's what we do. That's what we signed up for. So I guess it's a lot better here. I mean, I'm home every night. I'm not in Afghanistan, with mortars flying over my head,” he said with a slight chuckle.

And here at home, he is potentially saving lives.

Williams was a reporter for WOSU. Natasha is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and has more than 20 years of television news and radio experience.