Nearly 20,000 National Guardsmen are now supporting COVID-19 response efforts across the country with thousands of more opportunities for them to help expected in the coming weeks, the National Guard Bureau chief said.
As of Friday, 11 states, two territories and the District of Columbia have been approved to use federal funds for state missions after Congress passed a $2.2 trillion emergency relief package to partly fund Title 32 missions.
Another 29 requests are currently moving through the approval process, bureau officials said in a news release.
Majority of the missions have focused on supporting testing sites, helping Army engineers increase medical capacity, and transporting and distributing medical supplies and food, the release said.
“We’re doing a lot of important tasks, but one of the most important things we do is that we bring a presence and a confidence and maybe a sense of ease to people,” Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel said on social mediaWednesday. “This is a tough situation.”
The Guard has also stood up a 24/7 coordination center to ensure “unified and rapid response efforts between its state and federal partners,” the release said.
In New York, almost 3,000 Guardsmen are conducting missions as part of six joint task forces spread out across the state.
One of those missions has been to assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers add 2,500 beds inside the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. The center was turned into an alternate care site for patients without the virus to ease bed shortages at hospitals.
New York Guardsmen have also supported seven drive-thru testing sites, which have tested about 27,000 people so far, the release said.
In Maryland, over 1,500 Guardsmen have been called up to help with testing sites and other missions, including the distribution of more than 1 million masks, gloves and other protective equipment to medical facilities.
Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy visited Maryland Guard Soldiers Tuesday to thank them for setting up a testing site in front of the Washington Redskins football stadium.
With an uncertain timeline for this outbreak, McCarthy stressed that all Soldiers should follow the right safety protocols and be prepared to step in to help if called upon.
“It’s important to take care of yourself, take care of your families and be ready to respond because our neighborhoods need our help,” he said.
Further down south in Florida, more than 1,600 Guardsmen are activated to assist with testing sites, airport screening measures and logistics support.
Army and Air Force medical specialists have already helped test about 19,700 people for the virus in the state, the release said.
With only a portion of its 450,000-strong force now activated, Lengyel said more assistance will be needed to help communities.
“We’re going to have thousands and thousands of opportunities to help people deal with this over the coming week and months,” he said.
And to Lengyel, Guardsmen are the perfect people to carry the missions out.
“There are no such thing as strangers to the National Guard,” he said. “We’re from every community where we’re doing these important things for our nation.”