Medical professionals from the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM) are training medics at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, on the use of the Transport Isolation System (TIS) to move patients affected by COVID-19 aboard military cargo aircraft.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook

The TIS is an infectious disease containment unit designed to minimize risk to aircrew and medical attendants, while allowing in-flight medical care for patients afflicted by contagions like COVID-19.

“Right now, in the midst of this global pandemic, we have forces in harm’s way around the world,” explained Col. Leslie Wood, Air Mobility Command (AMC) en route care medical director. “Because of the requirements of transporting personnel with infectious diseases 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. And, if we lose these crews, we lose operational capability.”

Training medical personnel on biocontainment care is the day-to-day job of both Lt. Col. Elizabeth Schnaubelt and Tech. Sgt. Victor Kipping-Cordoba in Nebraska. Schnaubelt, USAFSAM infectious disease physician, and Kipping-Cordoba, USAFSAM public health technician, both work at the school house’s youngest Center of Sustainment of Trauma Readiness Skills location in Omaha, Nebraska, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Schnaubelt is the C-STARS Omaha director; Kipping-Cordoba, the non-commissioned officer in charge.

“We’ve been working closely with AMC on TIS training,” explained Schnaubelt. “It’s now being adapted for care and transport of patients with COVID-19. We’re here to help make those modifications. We’ve been fully integrated with Nebraska’s COVID-19 response. Tech. Sgt. Kipping and I are bringing a lot of those lessons learned from the medical center and adapting them to this mission of transporting patients with this highly infectious virus.”

The training, Kipping-Cordoba explained, is normally three days. “We train on personal protective equipment (PPE) donning and doffing procedures followed by waste management procedures and equipment familiarization and inventory,” said Kipping-Cordoba. “During the training, the infectious-disease team leads the disease and infection prevention and control briefings, all PPE donning and doffing and providing infection prevention and control, clinical guidance, and risk management,” he said.

 “We initially started the TIS program thinking of Ebola – and that was likely to be a one-to-two patient movement. Very low volume of patients,” explained Wood. “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.”

“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,” said Wood. I’ll speak for all of us by saying—we stand ready.”