The Air Force is training medics to transport COVID-19 patients on military cargo aircraft, modifying a process that was originally used to carry patients with Ebola in 2014.

“Because of the requirements of transporting personnel with infectious disease like COVID-19, we can’t use our traditional methods of transport without risking the medical crew in the back of the plane, and the rest of the crew in the front,” Col. Leslie Wood, Air Mobility Command en route care medical director, said in an Air Force news release. “And if we lose these crews, we lose operational capability.”

That’s why Lt. Col. Elizabeth Schnaubelt and Tech. Sgt. Victor Kipping-Cordoba, medical professionals from the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, are working with the Air Mobility Command to train others on the Transport Isolation System, known as TIS.

“We initially started the TIS program thinking of Ebola — and that was likely to be a 1 to 2 patient movement. Very low volume of patients,” Wood said. “So right now, we’re shifting that response completely to adapt to higher volume transport and more enduring yield — so over the next several months as opposed to shorter durations.”

The training involves using a tent-like, infectious disease containment enclosure so that COVID-19 patients can receive treatment aboard aircraft like the Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III or C-130 Hercules, and simultaneously safeguard aircrew members from being exposed to the virus.

“We train on personal protective equipment donning and doffing procedures followed by waste management procedures and equipment familiarization and inventory,” Kipping-Cordoba said.

Schnaubelt is an infectious disease physician and Kipping-Cordoba is a public health technician, both at the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s Center of Sustainment of Trauma Readiness Skills in Nebraska. However, the school is headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio where the Air Mobility Command is also based.

According to Wood, the command knows the training may be used not just for evacuating service members, but also other American citizens who’ve contracted the virus.

“Responding to this pandemic is a whole-of-government effort, so while we’re currently planning for our military forces, we understand that we could be asked by our senior leaders to move American citizens from around the world who might be stranded due to COVID-19,” Wood said. “I’ll speak for all of us by saying — we stand ready.”

The Pentagon said Thursday 893 service members have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 306 civilians, 256 dependents and 95 contractors.

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