National Guard adding 1,000 troops a day to fight the coronavirus pandemic
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 24, 2020
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More than 9,000 National Guard members are now activated to fight the coronavirus pandemic, and their top general said Tuesday that troop increases will continue to grow by 1,000 daily for the next week.
“It’s hard to predict what the complete and total response will be,” Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said during a news conference.
Every day governors and adjutants general are looking to the National Guard as a resource to fill gaps, he said.
This week, the Arizona National Guard began activating troops to help get products to grocery stores faster, while the California National Guard is managing food banks, Lengyel said, describing some of the new missions for troops beyond the 12 states such as New York, Louisiana and Florida where Guard members are helping at coronavirus testing sites.
Guard members are working in some capacity in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories to combat coronavirus, which has now infected more than 52,100 Americans, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Other missions for the Guard vary among the states. They include response planners, 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 for health care providers, collecting and delivering samples, and assisting with sample administration.
More than 900 Arizona National Guard members will deploy by the end of the week to communities where the greatest need for support has been identified, said David Nunn, spokesman for the Arizona National Guard. Those soldiers and airmen will work with grocery stores to unload trucks until the stores are able to get more staff hired.
“We are bridging the gap,” he said.
More than 500 California National Guard troops are working in Amador, Monterey, Riverside, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties at food bank warehouses, according to a news release from the state’s Guard.
As troops come onto active-duty status, Lengyel said they undergo a process to ensure they are healthy and not potentially infected with the coronavirus. As long as service members continue to feel healthy, there is no procedure in place to ensure when they return home, they are not bringing the virus with them.
“We are taking all the health protection measures,” such as frequent hand washing and using protective equipment when necessary, Lengyel said.
So far, 26 members of the National Guard have reported testing positive for the virus. That is a mix of troops on and off active duty, he said.
A Colorado National Guard member who had been working at a testing site tested positive for coronavirus. It is not believed the infection occurred while on duty, because he was not in contact with patients using the site, Lengyel said. Another service member who tested positive is part of the chief’s staff.
The Guard is also taking into consideration that many of its members work in the medical field in their civilian jobs and they should remain in place whenever possible. Though Lengyel said sometimes it is unavoidable, as he pulled one National Guard officer onto his staff that works as a civilian emergency room doctor in Missouri to help with decision-making.