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NY National Guard supports COVID-19 travel safety operations

Army Sgt. Benjamin Zawacki and Spc. Kevin Hamilton, Soldiers assigned to 105th Military Police Company, Buffalo, N.Y., sanitize their hands between flight arrivals at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport Oct. 23, 2020. The team meets arriving passengers to distribute the State Department of Health traveler form to people coming from restricted states.

Army Sgt. Benjamin Zawacki and Spc. Kevin Hamilton, Soldiers assigned to 105th Military Police Company, Buffalo, N.Y., sanitize their hands between flight arrivals at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport Oct. 23, 2020. The team meets arriving passengers to distribute the State Department of Health traveler form to people coming from restricted states.

Army Spc. Kevin Hamilton, Sgt. Benjamin Zawacki and Staff Sgt. James Kociencki, Soldiers assigned to 105th Military Police Company, Buffalo, N.Y., check the arrival boards at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, supporting the state’s travel advisory Oct. 23, 2020. The team meets arriving passengers to distribute the State Department of Health traveler form to travelers coming from restricted states.

Army Spc. Kevin Hamilton, Sgt. Benjamin Zawacki and Staff Sgt. James Kociencki, Soldiers assigned to 105th Military Police Company, Buffalo, N.Y., check the arrival boards at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, supporting the state’s travel advisory Oct. 23, 2020. The team meets arriving passengers to distribute the State Department of Health traveler form to travelers coming from restricted states.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Passengers getting off airplanes coming from outside New York are being greeted by New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen helping the Department of Health enforce New York’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Since Oct. 16, Soldiers and Airmen at airports across the state have been ensuring that passengers fill out a questionnaire that enables them to comply with an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in June. That order mandates that non-essential travelers coming from states with a high community spread of COVID-19 quarantine for 14 days when entering New York.

As of October, all but a few states in the United States are on the list.

“Our responsibility is to assist travelers from any of those states to make sure they fill out the questionnaire forms and submit them to the state Department of Health officials located in the airport,” explained Air National Guard Master Sgt. Adam Winters, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the team at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.

The team at the Buffalo-Niagara Airport consists of Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing based at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia and Soldiers from the 105th Military Police Company in Buffalo. One hundred Guard Soldiers and Airmen are assigned to the state’s airports, including John F. Kennedy Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York City, along with the smaller airports in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and Rochester.

The Soldiers and Airmen greet travelers and ask if they completed travel advisory health forms, Winters said. The forms can be filled out on an online app on their phone or by hand via a paper version.

“We are not peace officers for this mission and are only trying to enforce the executive order that has been issued by the governor,” Winters said. “Guardsmen are taking consideration for each passenger by explaining the executive order and ensuring that this is for the overall safety of all travelers.”

The travel advisory helps to track possible positive COVID-19 cases as well as allow the Department of Health to reach out to anyone who may have been in contact with a positive case, so that proper measures are taken to preserve the well-being of New York State residents and visitors, according to the Department of Health.

“It’s rewarding to help with the pandemic the best we can,” said Army National Guard Spc. Kassandra Bissell. “We are assisting the Department of Health to keep the public safe.”

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