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National Guard drill still up to the discretion of state leaders

The National Guard Bureau says it’s up to state leaders to determine how they want to proceed with drill and other duties, though virtual training is being considered, officials said this week as the Center for Disease Control advises against gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.

Guard personnel are being called up to support response efforts to the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, that has started to impact daily life in the United States. As of Tuesday, more than 1,500 Guard personnel in 22 states were called up to distribute food, sanitize public areas and coordinate response efforts with state emergency managers.

But state leaders still hold the power to make the final decision on how they’d like to continue training Guard units not activated to assist with the outbreak. About 80 percent of Guard personnel work part-time, training one weekend a month.

“Training requirements are determined between, and conducted at the discretion of, each governor and adjutant general,” bureau spokesman Maj. Rob Perino said in an email, referring to recently published comments by the National Guard Bureau chief.

Gen. Joseph Lengyel has been working with leaders from each state, territory and the District of Columbia to deal with Guard issues such as weekend training and duty status requirements, the bureau said in a press release Monday.

“I trust the [state adjutants general] will continue to make decisions at their level to ensure our force of 450,000 people will be ready when their governors call,” Lengyel said in the release.

Guard leaders may consider virtual training options as an alternative, he added.

Meanwhile, states like New York have leaned heavily on the Guard as they deal with the outbreak. There have been more than 700 cases of the COVID-19 virus in New York as of Monday, according to the state’s health department.

Guard personnel in New York are operating mobile screening centers where they’ve been photographed wearing visors, gloves and other protective garments to shield themselves against potential transmission of the virus as they screen others for the illness.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo mobilized Guardsmen to seek out facilities that can be converted into emergency hospital space as the state anticipates a rise in infections. Hospitals have been worried they will be overwhelmed by the growth of new virus cases in the coming weeks.

Cuomo also asked for other Army assistance in a New York Times op-ed on Saturday, writing that the Army Corps of Engineers should be mobilized to retrofit and equip existing facilities — like military bases or college dormitories — to serve as temporary medical centers.

“We believe the use of active duty Army Corps personnel would not violate federal law because this is a national disaster. Doing so still won’t provide enough intensive care beds, but it is our best hope,” Cuomo said.

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