As the coronavirus spreads in the US, “tens of thousands” of National Guard troops could be called up to assist efforts to combat the disease, the National Guard chief said Thursday.
There are more than 2,000 National Guard members on state active duty in 27 states, but the number is expected to increase. As of last Friday, only 400 Guardsmen were active in just six states.
“We anticipate that number going up relatively quickly, in fact doubling by this weekend,” Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said at a Pentagon press briefing.
“It’s hard to tell what the exact requirement will be, but I’m expecting tens of thousands to be used inside the states as this grows,” he told reporters, adding that “this could blossom in the next couple of weeks as governors and states determine their needs.”
The National Guard has a long history of responding to disasters, including public-health emergencies such as disease outbreaks.
“We are involved in a multitude of mission sets,” Lengyel said. “The National Guard is providing medical testing, assessments, facilities, ground transportation, logistics, command and control, planners, liaison officers, and we will continue to adapt as this unfolds.”
The coronavirus has infected more than 9,400 people and resulted in at least 152 deaths in the US.
Worldwide, more than 222,000 people have been infected and more than 9,000 have died. China, where the virus first appeared, has reported more than 81,000 cases, with 70,000 people recovered and 3,249 deaths.
As of Tuesday in New York, which has over 3,000 coronavirus cases, there were 900 New York National Guard troops on duty assisting at drive-thru test stations, cleaning public spaces, and distributing food, the Guard said in a statement.
“Going forward, we expect the role of the National Guard will continue to grow and evolve to meet the country’s needs during this historic pandemic,” Lengyel told reporters.
The Guard is having to implement certain force protection measures, however, as six Guardsmen have already tested positive for the coronavirus.
“My No. 1 priority is taking care of our National Guard soldiers, airmen and their families,” the chief said in a recent statement. “The readiness of our force will be critical to the success of this nation’s COVID-19 response efforts.”