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Cleaning to kill COVID-19
Guard brings expertise to Boro long-term care sites
While hazmat suits are hung out to dry at The Lodge at Bethany assisted living, Staff Sgt. Juan Martinez of Ukiah, Cal., left, of the 165th Airlift Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard removes his protective gear after another round of deep cleaning on Tuesday, April 22 as the 118th Georgia Army National Guard disinfect local nursing homes and communities.

Residents of two assisted living facilities in Statesboro enjoyed an unusual visit Tuesday from teams of the Georgia National Guard, there to help keep them safe.

The “enemy” is COVID-19, although neither site has reported the presence of the coronavirus.

The teams, comprised of the 165th Georgia Army National Guard, which was working under the 118th Army National Guard and included members from the 116th, 117th and 224th Air National Guard units, were there to help prevent the “enemy” from invading.

The Lodge at Bethany and Cottages at Bethany, as well as Willow Pond Senior Center, took advantage of a service offered by the Guard to deep clean and disinfect the long-term care facilities. Neither the Bethany facilities nor the Willow Pond facility has had any cases of COVID-19.

The cleaning service is available to all nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state, upon request, said Bulloch County Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Wynn. The requests are made through his office.

Last week, Heritage Inn and Eagle Health and Rehabilitation, both in Statesboro, took advantage of the service. Neither of those sites had reported any positive cases of COVID-19.

Despite earlier reports by Gov. Brian Kemp’s office that were incorrect, neither Heritage nor Eagle have reported any positive cases of COVID-19, said Amy Abel, communications director for Ethica Inc., which owns the two homes.

The April 12 report on Kemp’s website listed at least three regional nursing homes as having positive coronavirus cases, but that was corrected in an April 17 report by the Georgia Department of Public Health, which did not list Heritage or Eagle as having any COVID-19 cases.

Any long-term care facility can seek the deep cleaning by contacting their local Emergency Management Agency, Wynn said.


Prevention, not reaction

The service helps nursing homes ensure and maintain the highest level of prevention possible, according to Mst. Sgt. Brad Bethune with the 165th Georgia Army National Guard.

“We have been tasked by the state to come to facilities like Willow Pond — assisted living facilities, nursing homes — in order to prevent the spread of any and all viruses and bacterial infections to include coronavirus,” he said. “We’re not coming because there’s been any active cases. We’re coming in an attempt to prevent any cases from spreading through this highly at-risk group of individuals.”

The thorough disinfecting cleansing is a supplement to usual cleaning, said Georgia National Guard Staff Sgt. Amber Wilson.

“We use chemicals approved by the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency to deep clean and disinfect common areas and personal rooms,” she said.

Bethune and the Guard units stopped at The Lodges and Cottages at Bethany Tuesday morning and then went to Willow Pond that afternoon.

Since residents and their families were informed that the visits were pending, they were not alarmed at the sight of crews in heavy gear, said Chandler Dennard, administrator for Willow Pond. Bethany CEO Becky Livingston said several residents who are veterans truly enjoyed the visit.

“When we arrive to a facility like this, we’re going to put on a head-to-toe body suit with footies,” Bethune said. “We’re putting on an M-50 mask; double set of gloves, taped up at the wrists.

“Then we’re going in with this two-part liquid-chemical solution. It’s bio-oxygen. It’s supposed to kill anything on contact within a matter of seconds.

“We’re spraying it on all surfaces, and if we get near residents, we’re applying it to a rag and wiping down surfaces that likely will be touched; high touch areas — bed rails, door knobs, light switches — things of that nature.”


Welcoming the Guard

Livingston said the event was as much entertainment as a service, and the

residents and staff delighted in serving lunch to the work crews.

“The Lodge at Bethany and The Cottages at Bethany welcomed the Georgia National Guard … as they came to assist us in our vigilant efforts to maintain” efforts to keep COVID-19 at bay, she said. “We have been blessed to not have a positive COVID-19 case, and this service … is another opportunity to continue to follow the CDC guidelines.”

Dennard said residents were undisturbed by the process.

“They stayed in their rooms if they wanted,” he said.

The Guard used chemicals “with ions that stuck to surfaces, cracks and crevices, that normal wiping with a cloth could not get to.”

He said residents appeared to enjoy watching and visiting with the men and women as they worked.

“Several of our residents are in fact veterans, and they were especially honored to have these Reservists in our midst, providing this selfless service to assist us in protecting them from this virus,” Livingston said. “It was our honor … and encouraging to see their willingness and dedication.”


Regional effort

Bethune’s team, working under the 118th Georgia Army National Guard in the southeast Georgia area, has been assigned specific facilities in the Bulloch area.

“My team has been given nine facilities: seven in Statesboro, one in Appling County and one in Claxton,” he said. “There is an undetermined amount of time for this. We will continue to do this through the week and whatever rolls into next week. Then we’re on a bi-weekly schedule to come and do a cleaning again.”

Bethune said both the staff and residents at the facilities they are assigned have been very welcoming.

“As we enter these facilities, we find the staff are excited to have us come in,” he said. “They tend to be feeding us lunch, providing snacks, things of that nature.”

And the visits are a big deal for the residents, especially in a time when visitors are limited, he said. 

“The staff lets the residents know (we are coming), and a lot of the older ladies are putting on their very best, knowing that the Army and the Air Force are coming to visit.”

He described a scene that sounded more like a party than work.

“We’ve had some residents singing and playing music for our troops while they’re in there cleaning. People are just overjoyed and super happy.

“At The Lodges at Bethany, they asked if a couple of their veterans could come out and take pictures, and we spoke with them briefly,” Bethune said. We “had a nice time seeing some of the older veterans — guys that didn’t necessarily get some of the accolades that we have since I’ve been in the military.”

The Guard does not reveal which sites are next on their list, leaving such announcements to the individual nursing homes, Wilson said.


Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414. Herald editor Jim Healy contributed to this report.

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