TAMPA, Fla. - With a roar and lift-off in a C-17, 12 reservists from Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base began their mission to treat COVID-19 patients across the country.
They will land first in South Carolina, and then be sent to COVID-19 hotspots all over the United States.
"It is a unique experience, for sure. We have never really dealt with anything like this," said Capt. Jake Silvola-Finch, a reservist who works at Tampa General Hospital as a nurse.
The nurses and medics will give in-flight medical care in areas where COVID-19 patients may need to be moved long distances, quickly.
"We are all blessed to be here and be healthy enough to do it," said Silvola-Finch. "So when you get the call to do it, nobody hesitated."
That includes Master Sgt. Phyllis Tompkins, a retired firefighter who spent decades in the military; Iraq, Afghanistan, and now COVID-19.
"There are people out there who need our help," she said before climbing aboard. "I feel very good about being able to offer that help. For me, that is a big sense of pride."
They'll have to adjust their technique. Battlefield injuries are not contagious. The virus is.
"PPE is the biggest thing for us," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Merrill. "We have to maintain our mask, our PPE sanitize, make sure we keep clean. Keep around the patients clean as well."
Though they hate to leave behind their families, it'll be all business once they are dispatched.
"My main concern, once we start encountering patients, is to make sure I take care of the patient's needs," said Tompkins.
They will join another 120 reservists already deployed to help medics in different locations treat COVID-19 patients.
They are going to be gone for as long as they are needed.
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to email@example.com. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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