A California National Guard team trained to detect and respond to weapons of mass destruction is taking aim at a different kind of danger: the pandemic.
The highly trained team of biologists, chemists and lab technicians have set up a mobile laboratory and joined the fight to contain COVID.
"We are currently doing coronavirus testing for the state," California National Guard Major Andrew Hanson said. "This is not a normal mission set for the civil support teams."
The rapid testing lab is equipped with the machinery and materials needed to get results back within hours. The crew is now lending a hand to health departments across the state, including Contra Costa County.
Melody Hung-Fan, Contra Costa County's health lab director, said the county's labs have been overwhelmed. County officials said its high testing volumes have meant big delays, sometimes up to three weeks.
"It has been exhausting," Hung-Fan said. "We have been working at it since late February."
The national guard lab is now processing 100 tests a day from Contra Costa County and delivering quick results for the county's highest priority cases.
"Counties will have us test first responders, police, firemen and health care workers to more quickly rule in or out if those people are positive once they become symptomatic," Hanson said.
The military scientists said shifting gears to help battle the pandemic makes perfect sense.
"It's very important for the California National Guard to assist the public health response and to bring the state back to normal," California National Guard Major Alex Efors said. "And that's our duty and our responsibility, and we're happy to pitch in."
The team so far is processing tests from three Bay Area counties and will soon start helping Alameda County.