Over the Memorial Day weekend, members of the Minnesota National Guard, Minnesota Department of Health, and representatives from Watonwan County conducted free COVID-19 tests to residents from all across the state of Minnesota.
Watonwan County was one of just six testing sites in the state of Minnesota along with Duluth, Moorhead, East St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Faribault.
"The governor came out and put out the call to round up some of our national guardsmen to report the next morning to go to one of the six locations, this being one of them," said CPT Preston Preuss.
As of Monday morning, the National Guard had tested 330 patients and were anticipating testing over 500 people by the end of the day.
"We're not just testing Watonwan County, anyone can come in," SSG Peter McAnally. "We've had people coming in from an hour or two hours away, and even down from the cities just because this is the closest testing station."
Prior to entering the doors to the armory those being tested were given a pre-screening to see if they had any symptoms.
Once inside the doors of the armory, x's marked spots on the ground for patients to stand on before being screened and tested on by computers. After being tested, patients were escorted out a back door of the armory to reduce cross-contamination.
Patients with symptoms or mobility issues were brought to the back of the armory for testing. McAnally estimated that around 10% of tests were done behind the armory "for a variety of reasons."
Those with no symptoms were tested inside the walls of the armory.
Patients requesting tests ranged from younger kids to the elderly.
A total of 16 medically trained personnel were on hand to provide the testing. Two of the medically trained staff on hand were Specialist Hussain and PFC Michael.
"I think this somewhat alleviates some of the hysteria because we are able to better inform the public and give them tips on how to better protect themselves and their families," said Hussain.
Hussain is a corrections officer with the Sherburne County Sheriff's Office. Michael is a student at Metro State.
Both Preuss and McAnally said the experience of being up close with testing during the pandemic has been a positive and rewarding experience, and that other service members are keeping their morale high.
"I think the morale of our troops is pretty high," said Preuss, who has been in the service since 2009. "Just being able to provide a service to people— a free service to people who probably wouldn't be able to be tested otherwise. Even though we're volunteering and it's short notice, I think everyone is excited to be able to help and that's why we serve in the first place."
"It's been a positive experience," said McAnally, who is a 13-year member of the service. "This is one of the reasons why I joined the Minnesota National Guard. I wanted to be able to give back to the state that I live in. So not only do I get to serve my country, I get to do my military job but also help out with disaster relief, pandemics, and stuff like this. It's a fulfilling experience for me."
As of Tuesday evening, 57 cases have been confirmed in Watonwan County, per Watonwan County Public Health. The majority of those cases are residents ranging from 20-44 years old.