About 400 Guardsman in six states have been activated so far in response to the novel coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, with numbers expected to swell to about 1,000 by the weekend as more states take action, the National Guard bureau announced early Friday morning.
Air and Army National Guard members in Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island and Washington state are providing support to civilian authorities, according to the announcement. That includes 378 Guard members providing cleaning and transportation help in New York, and four providing emergency management support in Washington.
Elsewhere, Guard and Reserve units halted training exercises, including a Navy Reserve plan to postpone all drill weekends scheduled for March 14 and 15.
As of about 1 p.m. Eastern Friday, California and Maryland both had plans to activate Guardsman, officials said. Thirty-three states had declared emergencies as of that time.
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"The National Guard is fully involved at the local, state, and federal level in the planning and execution of the nation's response to COVID-19," officials said in a release. "The National Guards of the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia have a very deep bench of nearly 450,000 experienced and proven Air and Army National Guard professionals."
State emergency response training with local authorities is common practice in Guard units nationwide, and typically includes large-scale disaster and health-focused exercises.
"Guard units frequently train side-by-side with state and local emergency responders, making them well-suited for domestic operations," the release states. "The National Guard has unique capabilities, such as its Civil Support Teams and [Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear, and Explosive units] (CBRNE) that could provide local first responders with additional resources to combat COVID-19."
Meanwhile, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper for a briefing on just how ready those CBRNE units are to handle the crisis.
"As you are aware, National Guard and Reserve engineering, medical, water purification and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) units have the capability to play a decisive role in combating the spread of the COVID-19 virus and helping communities weather and recover from any outbreak," Duckworth said in a letter sent to Esper on Friday. "I am concerned that the readiness of these units has not been assessed in any systematic fashion to date and that potential preparations for them to activate have yet to be taken."
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.