NY Guard responds to COVID-19 with 3,620 troops
By Eric Durr, New York National Guard
/ Published June 12, 2020
LATHAM, N.Y. -- Over 22.7 million meals delivered, 311,321 COVID-19 tests collected, 270,686 phone calls answered and 25,554 pallets of medical supplies warehoused and 6,394 distributed.
Those are some of the numbers that describe the New York National Guard response to the COVID-19 crisis from March to June of 2020.
Along the way, troops established four alternate care facilities - including one at the Jacob Javits Convention Center which treated 1,095 COVID-19 patients - and helped the Medical Examiner of New York City conduct the dignified recovery of 2,882 New Yorkers who died during the crisis.
What started as the deployment of several hundred troops to a “containment zone” placed around a outbreak in New Rochelle on March 10, grew to over 3,620 troops on duty by May.
There were 2,994 New York Army National Guard Soldiers and 470 New York Air National Guard Airmen on the mission on May 5, organized into six regional task forces and two mission specific teams.
There were 81 New York Guard and 84 New York Naval Militia members responding as well.
The National Guard, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said, played a key role in the state’s pandemic response.
“You showed up when other people played it safe. You had the courage to show up,” Cuomo told members of the New York National Guard at the Jacob Javits Center on March 27. “You had the skill and the professionalism to make a difference and save lives.”
The response, Cuomo added, is historic.
“Ten years from now, you'll be talking about today to your children or your grandchildren and you will shed a tear because you will remember the lives lost. You'll remember the faces and you'll remember the names and you'll remember how hard we worked and that we still lost loved ones,” he said.
Initially, Soldiers and Airmen provided food to New Rochelle families who missed school meals, cleaned facilities, delivered hand sanitizer and established the first state-run COVID-19 drive-thru test site.
One unusual mission was staffing a call center established to answer questions from the public and schedule COVID-19 tests.
An executive order put New York on PAUSE March 22 and the mission grew. Testing sites were established on Long Island and New York City. Food distribution began in the city too.
Guard Soldiers turned the Javits Convention Center into the Javits New York Medical Station, staffed by active military medical personnel. The South Beach Psychiatric Center on Staten Island became another alternate care facility with Guard support.
Guard personnel assisted in controlling access to care facilities at Westchester Convention Center, SUNY Old Westbury and Stony Brook.
Soldiers and Airmen worked at warehousing the tons of medical supplies pouring in. They worked in four established sites such as the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services warehouse in Oriskany. Temporary warehouses were set up at Stewart Air National Guard Base and at the Javits Center.
A critical mission was assembling COVID-19 tests for the state Department of Health. Teams of 30 to 50 Airmen and Soldiers combined items into 1.6 million test kits.
The toughest mission, according to Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York, was assisting the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City with the dignified recovery of people who died in their homes.
Normally 25 people die at home in New York City each day. On some days, the 250 Soldiers and Airmen on the mission dealt with over 200 decedents.
“Your work makes a difference for families at a very critical time of need when their loss is most personal,” Shields told mem-bers during an April 2 visit.
At Elmhurst Medical Center, a public city hospital the New York Times called the epicenter of the virus, 14 pararescue Airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing helped overwhelmed staff for four weeks.
The pararescue Airmen managed ventilator use and helped turn over patients to help them breath better. They were “force mul-tipliers,” said Lt. Col. Stephen “Doc” Rush, the 106th Rescue Wing’s medical group commander.
“They were there to give staff support,” he said.
By June, Soldiers and Airmen were staffing 15 drive-up test sites and five coronavirus anti-body testing sites.
While over 22 million meals were delivered in New York City, Soldiers also provided meals to Chenango County senior citizens and supported food drives in the Mohawk Valley.
As he crisscrossed the state, Shields said he has been continually pleased by how the force works together, he told leaders during a June 1 meeting. Things happen as they should, he said.
“Everyone should be proud of the work being done and the efforts of our total force to ease the suffering of our fellow New Yorkers,” Shields said in a May 14th email to troops and leaders.