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A U.S. Navy Hospitalman puts on personal protective equipment before seeing a possible Coronavirus patient at the respiratory triage clinic, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Aug. 6.

Photo by Sgt. Micha Pierce

On the Front Lines

30 Sep 2020 | Sgt. Micha Pierce The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

From day one, the novel Coronavirus shocked the world and sent nations into a visceral panic, prompting leaders to hurriedly set-up safety precautions and overwhelming countless health care centers rushing to protect the public. New safety measures were immediately enacted across the globe and mass testing began to ensure anyone experiencing symptoms or showing possible signs of COVID-19 are taken care of and treated as soon as possible. Included in the surge of healthcare adaptations, Sailors and their civilian counterparts at Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, went into double time and onto the front lines of COVID-19.

Among the Sailors answering the call of a pandemic, U.S. Navy Hospitalman Wyatt Phillipson and Hospitalman Jesus Ayalalara, both general duty corpsmen at NHCCP, were chosen to leave their previous duties and join the respiratory triage clinic’s team. Both corpsmen have been there working diligently screening possible patients and performing COVID-19 and various other tests since March 2020.

“We screen people that come in with concerning symptoms that could possibly be COVID-19,” said Ayalalara. “We take them in the back and evaluate them, then based on their history and whatever symptoms they are having we run the tests needed.”

Ayalalara and Phillipson started off working in medical homeport. There, they learned how to chart and facilitate various tests, working to become as proficient as possible in the clinic. After a few months and proving himself to be a valuable member of the team, Phillipson was transferred to the women’s health clinic to help the staff there.

 “We screen people that come in with concerning symptoms that could possibly be COVID-19.” Navy Hospitalman Jesus Ayalalara, NHCCP general duty corpsman

After six months of working in their respective clinics, the call was made for corpsman to become part of the newly established respiratory triage clinic, with a COVID-19 focus, and Phillipson and Ayalalara were selected for the job.

“They had a lot of trust in me and I really appreciated that,” said Phillipson. “Which kinda helped me get selected to be one of the ones to establish this new [respiratory triage clinic].”

The hospitalmen described the beginning stages of the respiratory triage clinic as hectic. Possible COVID-19 cases were coming in daily and Ayalalara, Phillipson, nurses and doctors there stayed late almost every day to ensure all patients were taken care of. It took time for them all to get adjusted to the tempo and flow at the clinic, learning to quickly recognize the symptoms of a new and developing disease in their patients. Regardless of the challenges, checking in patients, doing intake, addressing symptoms of their patients, administering tests, and running lab work became second nature to Ayalalara and Phillipson.

“Over there [medical homeport], they taught us a lot of things,” said Ayalalara. “Everything I learned over there, set me up to be successful here.”

At first, only nurses administered the COVID-19 tests. But as numbers grew exponentially, Phillipson and Ayalalara started testing patients as well. Ayalalara stated that medical homeport really set them both up for success when it came to testing and looking for some of the symptoms of COVID-19. He continued to say that the flu tests they learned to administer are very similar. It also helped having knowledge on how to properly carry out a throat swab and complete strep test to ensure all bases were covered in case COVID-19 wasn’t the perpetrator making patients ill.

Intake Procedures Photo by Sgt. Micha Pierce
A U.S. Navy Hospitalman demonstrates intake procedures of possible Coronavirus patients on a U.S. Marine, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Aug. 6.

“Since we had been testing patients more,” said Phillipson. “We have earned that responsibility to decide, ‘okay we’re going to do this, this is the plan and we’re going to follow through with the plan’.”

The overall goal and main purpose of their job, other than helping patients and testing, is to help decrease the number of COVID-19 cases on installation and get anyone exposed quarantined in an efficient manner.

“We’re that safety net,” said Phillipson. “If you think there’s a problem or that you’re not feeling well, tell your command and just come straight to us.”

Ayalalara and Phillipson are skilled corpsman who have been trained to tackle the essential job that is mitigating COVID-19 in the community on the installation. From the moment they were appointed to the clinic, they have been donning the protective equipment, completing the proper paperwork for patients, and collecting samples from patients. None of that could be done without the other, thanks to their teamwork and the work of the rest of their crew combined, they have been holding the front line for MCAS Cherry Point.

“I mean honestly, I get to work with a great team,” said Ayalalara. “They are all very hardworking and having that great team has just made this a great experience.”

The hope is for a soon end to come of the pandemic. However, that cannot happen unless we all do our part: wear a face covering, wash hands, and practice social distancing.