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New York National Guard COVID mission tops 2 years

  • Published
  • By Eric Durr,
  • New York National Guard

NEW YORK - In the two years since the New York National Guard was ordered to help contain a COVID-19 outbreak in New Rochelle, 7,050 members of New York’s military forces have been part of the state’s COVID-19 response.

During the more than 730 days since March 8, 2020, members of the Army and Air Guard, the New York Naval Militia, and the New York Guard delivered millions of meals, staffed testing sites and the country’s largest vaccination station, managed a field hospital, assisted New York city’s medical examiner, cared for people in nursing homes and trained non-medical Soldiers and Airmen as emergency medical technicians.

That adds up to 1,535,326 workdays of support to their fellow New Yorkers, with almost 55 million meals delivered, 4.5 million vaccinations supported, and 1.6 million people tested for the virus.

At the same time, the New York National Guard continued to meet federal mission requirements.

The New York Army National Guard deployed 650 Soldiers from the 42nd Infantry Division to Kuwait to command Task Force Spartan Shield and smaller contingents around the world. Meanwhile, the New York Air National Guard supplied research camps in Antarctica and Greenland, provided air cover for American forces on the ground in the Central Command area and deployed rescue assets to the Horn of Africa.

And the New York National Guard deployed 1,723 Soldiers and Airmen in Title 32 status to assist in security missions in Washington, D.C., in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. Personnel remained on duty in Washington until March 2021.

“Our service members and civilian employees have done fantastic work, generating more than 1.5 million work days since March 8, 2020, supporting the states’ COVID pandemic response efforts,” said Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York. “The willingness of our service members to volunteer to serve on the mission and the constant dedication of our civilian workforce has been phenomenal.” 

The mission has included 5,406 Army Guard Soldiers, 1,073 Air Guard Airmen, 387 Sailors and Marines of the New York Naval Militia, and 184 volunteers from the New York Guard, the state’s self-defense force.

The total strength of New York’s military forces is about 19,000 people.

The initial mission was for New York National Guard troops to provide school lunches to students in the New Rochelle school district. The school had been closed as part of an effort to contain COVID-19, and the goal was to make sure kids who relied on school lunches got them.

Then the mission extended to cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in 22 public buildings to contain the virus.

Then National Guard troops staffed the first drive-thru testing site in New York, answered call center phones and delivered 112,707 gallons of hand sanitizer around the state.

In 2020, the New York National Guard mission focus was on passing out meals to people without work due to the pandemic, staffing vaccination sites across the state, assisting in warehousing and distributing medical supplies, and even establishing a field hospital at the Jacob Javits Convention Center to house up to 1,000 patients.

The hospital was supposed to take non-COVID patients to free up space in hospitals for COVID-19 patients. Eventually, 1,095 COVID-19 patients were treated at the facility, which was managed by the New York National Guard and staffed by active-duty military medical personnel.

New York National Guard troops helped maintain three additional field hospitals built but never used and assembled COVID-19 test kits shipped across the state.

In April 2020, Airmen and Soldiers were deployed in New York City to help the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner deal with a surge in deaths due to COVID-19.

The Guard members helped retrieve the remains of 2,822 New Yorkers from homes and facilities. They also assisted at temporary morgue trailers set up in Brooklyn.

In the fall, National Guard personnel collected health affidavits from passengers arriving at 12 New York airports. More than 3 milion forms were collected.

In December 2020, the Department of Defense selected the New York National Guard as a distribution test site for the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine for the U.S. military. New York National Guard medical personnel administered 1,000 vaccinations and worked out procedures to vaccinate Guard Soldiers and Airmen, civilian employees and veterans efficiently.

In 2021, the focus shifted to work at vaccination sites across New York. The largest of these was at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York, once again pressed into pandemic service.

Between Jan. 13 and July 9, 2021, at least 346,000 New Yorkers received 647,973 shots at the convention center. The New York National Guard assigned 620 personnel to help vaccinate people.

During 2021, New York National Guard personnel assisted in 3,977,911 vaccinations.

Guard members continued to assist at testing sites, although those locations began to shut down as more people were vaccinated and more testing options opened.

In December 2021, the New York National Guard began helping staff 13 nursing homes and long-term care facilities as the COVID-19 omicron variant surged across the state.

As 2021 turned to 2022, the New York National Guard expanded the nursing home mission, with 485 military personnel caring for residents and supporting activities at 87 nursing facilities.

In another initiative directed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, the New York National Guard identified 400 members who volunteered to train as emergency medical technicians. 

The omicron surge also resulted in the opening of more state-run, National Guard-staffed vaccination sites, with 28 locations across the state at the end of February 2022.

The increase in COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant also resulted in 120 Soldiers and Airmen going on duty in the New York City medical examiner’s office again — not because of an anticipated increase in deaths but a concern that medical examiner staffers would become ill.