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How National Guardsmen are helping clean long-term care facilities
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National Guard members meet outside New Horizon Lanier Park Friday, April 10, 2020, following decontamination efforts at the nursing home off of White Sulphur Road in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

On Friday, April 10, a group of National Guardsmen visited New Horizons Lanier Park, a Northeast Georgia Health System long-term care facility off of White Sulphur Road in Gainesville that has one reported case of COVID-19.

Dr. Swati Gaur, geriatrician and New Horizons’ medical director, said New Horizons Limestone has 11 confirmed cases of the virus. She said most of those in both facilities with COVID-19 are older adults. 

Sean Couch, public relations manager at NGHS, said the first confirmed case at New Horizons tested positive around a week ago at the Limestone location.

Gaur said there have been no deaths at either facility related to the novel virus. 

Once the patients tested positive for COVID-19, she said they were immediately moved to New Horizons Limestone’s transitional care unit, which is physically separated from the building. Only those with the virus stay in the transitional care unit.

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National Guardsmen from Cumming dispose of their gear Friday, April 10, 2020, following decontamination efforts at New Horizon Lanier Park nursing home off of White Sulphur Road in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Gaur said both facilities have a stringent screening system in place for both patients and staff, which has been implemented for nearly four weeks.

The staff have their temperatures taken and symptoms assessed before they enter the buildings. They’re also required to wear masks at all times.

“We had instituted that we are going to do an extensive screen for common and uncommon symptoms of COVID-19 twice a day for all patients,” Gaur said. 

Only the medical workers have been entering the building as a means to limit exposure to patients. Gaur said those in the Limestone COVID-19 unit are extensively monitored and cared for by staff.

“The best thing is we are turning our worry to action and taking care of our patients and making all the emergency preparedness,” she said.

The Georgia National Guard is decontaminating long-term care facilities, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The announcement to launch this plan came from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office on March 31, in an effort to protect vulnerable Georgians from COVID-19.

Although the medical workers in both New Horizons facilities have ramped up their already extensive cleaning routines, Gaur said having National Guardsmen disinfect the buildings was “icing on the cake.”

“Any help in cleaning the building at this time is very welcome,” she said.

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Decontamination equipment is disposed of by National Guard members Friday, April 10, 2020, following decontamination efforts at New Horizon Lanier Park nursing home off of White Sulphur Road in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Cmdr. Carlton McLaurin is leading the task force of 82 National Guardsmen, which encompass Hall, Forsyth, Lumpkin, Dawson, Franklin, Habersham, Hart, Stephens, Towns, Union, White and Rabun counties. 

He said the task force is broken down into groups, 42 of which make up the infectious control team that sanitizes nursing homes, long-term care facilities and assisted living homes.

So far, he said his team has decontaminated seven out of the 180 on their list, and intends to clean Willow Wood Nursing Center in Flowery Branch next. McLaurin said the first long-term care facility the taskforce visited was New Horizons Limestone.

“We’re just reaching out to all of them,” McLaurin said. “But our primary focus is where the highest number of confirmed cases are (in each county).”

After contacting the facilities and explaining the sanitization process, McLaurin said his task force waits for the staff to choose a date.

When the National Guardsmen decontaminate the buildings, McLaurin said they use foggers which cover all surfaces with a sanitizing solution. They then implement a second round of cleaning by mopping floors, disinfecting empty rooms and wiping down frequently used doors.

“We don’t fog the entire building, just the common areas and more heavily trafficked areas,” he said. 

McLaurin said the infectious control team doesn’t force residents out of their rooms, but instead asks for permission to enter and disinfect the spaces.

Although cleaning isn’t the typical role for National Guardsmen, McLaurin said his comrades take it seriously. 

“We carry it out with the same tenacity as we would any other task or mission,” he said.

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National Guard from Cumming dispose of their gear Friday, April 10, 2020, following decomtamination efforts at New Horizon Lanier Park nursing home off of White Sulphur Road in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers
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