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National Guard helps set up state-run drive-thru testing in Merrillville
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National Guard helps set up state-run drive-thru testing in Merrillville

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MERRILLVILLE — Indiana National Guard personnel helped get the first state-run coronavirus drive-thru testing site up and running this week at Merrillville High School.

On Wednesday, the National Guard assisted the Indiana State Department of Health, Lake County Health Department and Merrillville Police Department to set up the Merrillville facility, said Indiana National Guard Sgt. Justin Andras.

The testing site is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Saturday at 276 E. 68th Place for first responders and essential employees who are experiencing symptoms.

Merrillville was chosen as the location for the first state-run testing site because of high public demand. Its aim is to make testing more accessible for first responders, medical professionals, essential business employees, grocery store staff, bus drivers and others who experience possible coronavirus symptoms, Andras said.

“A lot of people have been asking about more testing,” said Chief of Staff Shane Hatchett, of the Indiana State Department of Health. “We are making it more accessible to those who are putting their lives on the line every day.”

A total of 28 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment stationed in South Bend helped with traffic control, lane setup and overall support.

“We appreciate the work that the Guard is doing in collaborating with us,” Hatchett said. “We’ve had the Guard embedded in our operations center for about a month now, and we’re able to put these things together because of their assistance. We really wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”

After consulting with Lake County Health Officer Dr. Chandana Vavilala, officials pulled the event together within 48 hours. The Department of Homeland Security facilitated communication between the health department, the National Guard and the Indiana Department of Transportation to prepare the testing site.

“Indiana National Guardsmen and women support the communities they live in; they are neighbors, family members, and friends,” said 2nd Lt. Shawn Stachula, officer in charge of the battalion. “It’s important that the guard gets engaged in their local community because it gives an opportunity for soldiers to be a direct first responder and engage and support in ways we may not have been able to do prior.”

The collaboration it took to create a testing site aided in building relationships between agencies as they continue to respond to emergency needs throughout Indiana.

“Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, and Governor Holcomb have been very adamant that ‘we are all in this together,’ and what we are asking of others we are doing ourselves,” Hatchett said.

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Night Crime/Breaking News Reporter

Anna Ortiz is the breaking news/crime reporter for The Times, covering crime, politics, courts and investigative news. She is a graduate of Ball State University with a major in journalism and minor in anthropology. 219-933-4194, anna.ortiz@nwi.com

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