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More than 1,500 National Guard troops have been activated in response to coronavirus outbreak

In a March 12, 2020 photo, members of the National Guard hand out bags of food to residents near a one-mile radius "containment area" set up to halt the coronavirus in New Rochelle, N.Y.

SPENCER PLATT, GETTY IMAGES/TNS

By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 16, 2020

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States are increasingly calling upon their National Guard troops, with more than 1,500 soldiers and airmen activated for duty as the coronavirus pandemic has led President Donald Trump and the governors of all 50 states to declare emergencies.

So far Maryland has called upon the largest number of Guard troops at 1,000. By mid-week, the state will reach 2,200 troops, the amount authorized by Gov. Larry Hogan, said Lt. Col. Rick Breitenfeldt, spokesman for Maryland National Guard.

There are 37 confirmed cases of the virus in Maryland, according to the state’s health department.

New missions beginning this week include building tents outside of hospitals and medical facilities in case there is a need to triage patients outside of the building, he said.

The Guard also is assisting with Maryland residents quarantined at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., who are being moved to their home state. Those people were passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked in California last week and will be screened again for the virus when they arrive at Martin State Airport in Baltimore. From there, the Guard will assist in transporting patients cleared of the virus back to their homes, Breitenfeldt said.

Maryland Guard troops are continuing to work at the Strategic National Stockpile, which is located in Maryland and contains medical supplies to ship nationwide in the event of a shortage.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has more than 500 Guard members on duty helping feed schoolchildren, cleaning public spaces and assist at drive-through testing sites. Cuomo also is asking the federal government to utilize more military resources to battle the outbreak. His state has 729 confirmed cases and he’s called on Trump to deploy the Army Corps of Engineers to work with states to build temporary medical facilities.

“It’s going to overwhelm the hospitals,” Cuomo said Monday during a news conference about the spread of the virus.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Monday at the Pentagon that the Defense Department had not received an official request for Army Corps of Engineers support. 

"That would be something that we would look at," he said. "... We've not been asked to take a look at that yet, but we are standing by."

In absence of that federal help, Cuomo said New York is organizing with the National Guard, building unions and private developers to find existing space to adapt into medical facilities. However, he worries about ballooning costs and stocking these facilities.

“It is very, very hard to get medical equipment now because everybody on the globe is trying to buy the same medical equipment,” Cuomo said. “It’s terribly scarce. Go back, again, to the capacity of the federal government which operates and maintains a medical emergency stockpile where they have medical equipment for domestic issues or for wartime.”

At least 13 other states have activated Guard troops for varying missions related to the coronavirus outbreak, including response liaisons and support to state emergency operations centers, support to health care professionals, logistics support, assisting with disinfecting and cleaning common public spaces, providing transportation support for health care providers, collecting and delivering samples, and assisting with test sample administration, according to a news release from the National Guard Bureau in Washington.

"Bottom line, our force must remain flexible, innovative and ready to help America mitigate the impacts of this virus," said Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, National Guard Bureau chief. "I trust the adjutants general in the 50 states, three territories and District of Columbia will continue to make decisions at their level to ensure our force of 450,000 people will be ready when their governors' call."

Nationwide, confirmed cases of the respiratory illness climbed significantly over the weekend to 4,138, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Thayer.rose@stripes.com
Twitter: @Rose_Lori
 

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