Yahoo reports the National Guard is preparing to respond to the coronavirus pandemic as if the nation were facing “54 separate hurricanes in every state, territory and the District of Columbia,” Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters Thursday.
The National Guard, which is composed of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, is a 450,000-strong reserve force organized across all 50 states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. Guard units report primarily to the governors of their states but can be federalized and placed under the command of the Department of Defense.
Governors in 27 states have so far activated a total of 2,050 Guard members in response to the pandemic, according to Lengyel, who added that he expects the number of activated Guard personnel to double by the weekend and then to keep increasing. “I’m expecting tens of thousands to be used inside the states as this grows,” he said. “This could quickly blossom in the next couple of weeks.
“A historic event demands a historic response,” Lengyel said, adding that the Guard is spread across “nearly every ZIP code in the country” and is the ideal force to help communities respond to the coronavirus threat. “When disaster strikes we don’t have to mobilize from some base; we pack a lunch, we go to work, because we are already there in the communities where these events are taking place,” he said. “We live there. We can respond faster.”
Lengyel indicated that the Guard would play a key role in testing for the coronavirus. “We expect the total number of Guardsmen activated will increase rapidly as test kits become available,” he said. Six members of the Guard have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Lengyel.
The Guard is already administering tests in Colorado, New York and Rhode Island, while across the country it is also involved in planning, command and control and logistical support for local communities’ pandemic responses, he added.