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    WRNMMC steps up COVID-19 response due to new Omicron surge



    Story by Alpha Kamara 

    Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

    By Alpha Kamara, WRNMMC Command Communications

    WRNMMC, Bethesda, MD – Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has stepped up its COVID-19 response as new cases surge across the country, due in large part to the emergence of the extremely contagious Omicron Variant.

    While most preventive measures such as drive-thru COVID-19 testing, strict use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and physical distancing have remained in place since the spring of 2020, the facility is placing a renewed focus on these and other protective protocols to ensure the safest patient care possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the US has seen a recent increase in COVID-19 positive cases since the omicron virus was detected.

    According to Maryland’s Department of Health, as of Jan. 4, 2022, the state recorded about 15,000 new COVID-19 positive cases making a total of 765,944 cases recorded so far, with confirmed hitting close to 12,000.

    WRNMMC’s Director of Medicine, US Army Col. Jeremy Edwards, said the hospital’s renewed efforts are in response to the new national surge of COVID-19. He said the intent is to ensure patients, staff and their families are safe at all times. He said those efforts include: Effective use of PPE (including masks, gloves, and gowns) and the implementation of COVID-19 related policy guidance within the facility (including a restriction on visitors and large gatherings).

    What’s responsible for the new surge?

    Col. Edwards said the new surge is linked to the new Omicron Variant which has been detected in almost every state in the US. People are also getting overwhelmed with the continuous COVID-19 restrictions, he added.

    Since the fight against the global pandemic has been going on for long, it’s possible that some people are getting frustrated with all of the preventive methods. Col. Edwards stresses that people should not let their guards down but should instead follow trusted health care advice and protect themselves.

    “Be vigilant, keep wearing your masks, and follow the CDC and the hospital guidelines. If we all agree to that, we will keep ourselves and our families safe,” he said. He further noted that getting vaccinated is a very effective way of fighting the virus.

    The omicron variant - what we know

    According to Col. Edwards, the Omicron Variant is a newer, more complex version of the COVID-19 virus. As the virus replicates or reproduces in our bodies, it mutates. When that happens, it hides or changes how our bodies respond to it. This can make it more infectious or contagious, he said.

    “The omicron virus mutates in its spike proteins which our bodies use to recognize the virus and attack it. We do know that the COVID-19 vaccines available in the US are still very effective in preventing significant COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, even with the spike protein mutations. That’s why we are still encouraging everyone to be vaccinated,” he stressed.

    However, he said the vaccination rate for Maryland is quite good and the state is following up with CDC best practices.

    The COVID-19 Centralized Screening Area (CSA) or drive- thru PCR testing

    In late December, 2021, WRNMMC again emphasized the need for the drive-thru testing feature due to the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases and the rise in testing demand. In a message circulated to TRICARE-eligible beneficiaries and WRNMMC staff members, the hospital said it is giving priority to the following categories of beneficiaries;

    TRICARE-eligible beneficiaries and WRNMMC staff members experiencing symptoms of COVID-19

    TRICARE-eligible beneficiaries scheduled for a medical procedure that requires COVID-19 testing

    WRNMMC staff members instructed by the WRNMMC Occupational Health Clinic to get a COVID-19 test before returning to work

    Active duty service members and WRNMMC staff members on military travel orders that require COVID-19 testing. Family members of the active duty sponsor who are on the same official travel orders can also use the CSA. Beneficiaries must bring their travel orders when visiting the CSA.

    Meanwhile, for those who do not meet any of the criterion above, they are encouraged to use other resources to get more information to get access to alternative testing locations including the hospital’s site;

    Since that message was sent, there has been an increase in the number of vehicles and staff using the drive- thru and walk- in facilities to get tested. Long lines are seen daily around the emergency area close to building 9 as qualified beneficiaries are screened for COVID-19.

    According to US Navy HM3 Haynes Thompson, a minimum of 250 patients are tested at the facility daily. She said this is higher than the usual drive thru minimum, which she attributed to both the holiday and the omicron variant. “The Omicron Variant is a key factor responsible for the surge. The holiday has also forced more people to interact with families and friends. Hence they want to be tested,” she said.

    Haynes noted that the drive thru procedure is easy and simple because patients only need to drive up and join the queue, after which a staff member will quickly register them for testing. “After the test, the result is released between 48-72 hours through the TRICARE Online Patient Portal,” she said.

    The large drive-thru and walk-in turn out is commendable
    For Col. Edwards, the large turnout of patients getting tested is welcome news because it sends a positive message that people are taking the virus seriously. He said people should not become complacent as COVID-19 is still around and everyone needs to be vigilant. “What we really don’t want is for people who are COVID-19 positive to be running around without being quarantined. This will put them and the health of their family members at risk,” he said.

    The holidays are here, and so is COVID-19
    The period between Christmas and New Year's Day is one of the biggest holiday periods in the US. It’s a time when people travel to meet their families, friends and loved ones across states. But, Col. Edwards said, this does not mean the fight to defeat COVID-19 is over. His advice is simple and straightforward for everyone planning to interact with family and friends this season:

    “Enjoy [the holidays] safely, but beware that when visiting family members, your action should not put them at risk. Be smart about who you are visiting, get tested, get vaccinated and follow the CDC guidelines,” he stressed.

    For more information on the Omicron variant, please visit the CDC site

    Our COVID-19 Centralized Screening Area site:, or our COVID Vaccine page:



    Date Taken: 01.05.2022
    Date Posted: 01.05.2022 14:13
    Story ID: 412480
    Location: BETHESDA, MD, US 

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