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D.C. Medical Reserve Corps volunteers prepare to help respond to coronavirus pandemic

Karyn Hawkins, a nurse at the National Institutes of Health, practices performing a nasal swab for a covid-19 test during a D.C. Medical Reserve Corps training session Monday at the D.C. Armory.
Karyn Hawkins, a nurse at the National Institutes of Health, practices performing a nasal swab for a covid-19 test during a D.C. Medical Reserve Corps training session Monday at the D.C. Armory. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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Meg Keswani, a George Washington University medical student, had some down time after her first board exam was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday night, she was among several dozen residents who took part in a training session for the D.C. Medical Reserve Corps at the D.C. Armory, the headquarters of the District’s National Guard.

The battalion of volunteers, many with medical expertise, will be called upon as the District copes with the pandemic. It will provide medical screening and support in mass-care settings and help track patients at events, among other duties.

The group, which included nurses, doctors and those without medical training, learned how to do a swab for the covid-19 test and put on protective personal equipment.

A hazmat team member from D.C. Fire showed volunteers how to get fitted for their N95 masks to ensure the masks keep them protected.

For volunteers like Keswani, the training was a refresher.

“I think everyone gets that we’re in an emergency, in a pandemic, and we’re trying to do everything we can to help, to help our communities help each other,” said Keswani, 23, who joined the Medical Reserve Corps last year, her first year in medical school.

Coronavirus in the DMV: What you need to know

The number of reported coronavirus cases in the D.C. region had reached 1,051 on Wednesday evening. A Washington Post analysis showed that 424 cases had been reported in Maryland and 392 cases had been reported in Virginia. The District announced 48 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the city’s total in the Post analysis to 235. In all, 20 deaths have been reported in Maryland, Virginia and the District as of Wednesday evening.

As the number of cases rose in the city, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) activated the Medical Reserve Corps over the weekend. It has more than 600 members, most of whom are medical professionals, Bowser said on Twitter.

Volunteers without medical experience assist with administrative duties.

“We know our residents look out for their neighbors, and this emergency is no different,” Bowser said in a news release after calling for volunteers.

More than 1,600 people have applied to volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps, said D.C. Health Director LaQuandra S. Nesbitt on Monday.

Washington resident Vegas Curry said he came to the training because “I just feel like I need to do my part.”

Curry, an emergency management professional with the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said he has had quite a bit of emergency training.

“This pandemic, it’s scary to the uninitiated, the untrained,” he said.

How you can help during the coronavirus outbreak

Jordan Selzer, an emergency room doctor in George Washington University’s Department of Emergency Medicine, held a mannequin as he walked D.C. National Guard member David Aladejobi through the process of inserting a swab into the nasal cavity to test for the virus. He told Aladejobi to briefly explain the process to the person he would be testing.

“That’s where the virus eventually lives,” Selzer, a disaster and operational medicine fellow at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said in an interview. “So, if you don’t get far enough back, you might not get an actual accurate sample.”

Selzer said it is key that the volunteers have the same level of training and conduct proper tests.

Aladejobi, a public health analyst for the Department of Health and Human Services, said it was important that the community comes together “to get past this.”

He said he was encouraged by seeing people with and without medical experience at the training.

“I guess that’s what’s going to make this work,” he said.

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