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Guardsmen enter fray

Staff Writer | December 5, 2020 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Overwhelmed Kootenai Health COVID-19 testing center employees were given a moment to catch their breath Friday when the National Guard swooped in to help.

Three local National Guardsmen and one from Lewiston were on site first thing in the morning to assist with directing traffic and taking names and information from patients in the drive-up line. The Guardsmen helped streamline the process as 160 cars had pulled through by 11 a.m., and more kept coming.

"We are busy and extremely thankful they are here," said Lori Ritchart, Kootenai Health COVID testing center office coordinator. "These guys were here bright and early and have great attitudes. We showed them what we were doing and they've taken charge of the roles they're playing and are doing amazing out there."

Friday was the first day of many the Guardsmen will be assisting at the testing center as COVID cases climb in Kootenai County. The testing center applied for the assistance, as demand is beginning to exhaust full-time employees.

"Based on the community spread and the holidays coming up, people gathering, we anticipate higher volume, and we don’t want to rob staff from the hospital," COVID testing center operations manager Raeleen Dorr said. "It was a great option to utilize them."

The testing center has had to compete with the hospital and borrow staff as both are experiencing high volumes of patients and testing. Employees have been working 'round the clock to fulfill the need, but the supply of workers is becoming outweighed by the demand.

"We're all trying to be with our families," Ritchart said. "To see these guys here this morning was a relief. I felt like I could take a deep breath, that my teams could take a deep breath, and we’re all so thankful."

National Guard Sgt. Colton Zorrozua, who lives in Lewiston and drills in Post Falls, said their first day on the job went smoothly.

"I couldn't ask for anything better," he said.

National Guard personnel have been deployed to sites all over Idaho.

"It makes us feel really good," Zorrozua said. "We finally get to do something that we signed up for, and that's to help the people of Idaho. It's just one of those things, you don't have very many chances to do it, so when the opportunity comes by, we all kind of lunge for it."

Lines of cars snaked around the buildings and parking lots as patients waited to be tested.

Lisa Sexton, assistant superintendent in the Lakeland Joint School District, was in line to be tested for her second time at the Kootenai Health site. She said she was also tested once in Washington.

Her last trip to the Kootenai Health COVID testing site included about a three-hour wait. This time, with the National Guard speeding up the process, her wait was cut in half.

"They're just super efficient," she said. "You come knowing that you're going to be in line because we have so many cases and so many people getting tested.

"I just know how hard these health people are working, so whatever help we can get them, I'm all for it," she said. "It's nice the National Guard's here and they're keeping everything moving."

The National Guard will be present seven days a week through at least Dec. 30, depending on the need.



National Guard PFC Tyrone Condon asks for a patient's name and information at the Kootenai Health COVID-19 testing site Friday in Coeur d'Alene. National Guardsmen have been asked to help out at the testing site so it doesn't have to borrow employees from the main hospital, which is also extremely busy at this time.