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Defense chief says states can use National Guard to enforce stay-at-home orders

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Armed Services chairman unsold on slashing defense budget | Democratic Senate report details 'damage, chaos' of Trump foreign policy | Administration approves .8B Taiwan arms sales Democratic House chairman trusts Pentagon won't follow 'unlawful orders' on election involvement Top military officers cleared to return to Pentagon after quarantine MORE said Tuesday that states have the option of using the National Guard to enforce stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“That would be an option for the governors,” Esper said on CBS News. “Again, the guard is active in all 50 states and territories. I'm very proud of what our guardsmen are doing, but we have a whole lot more capacity out there in the guard right now to do more.”

Esper compared having the National Guard deal with the coronavirus to its duties when a hurricane or another natural disaster strikes the country, saying the force would be used to curb the outbreak’s effects.

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“You know, we typically think of National Guard dealing with a hurricane in a state or a series of tornadoes, and this case right now, we have 54 hurricanes out there,” he said. “And every single state and territory, and we know they're going to grow in size and in their power.”

The remarks come as a growing number of states order their residents to shelter in their homes to try to blunt the spread of COVID-19, which has infected more than 189,000 people and killed at least 3,900 in the U.S. Last weekend the National Guard in Rhode Island began going door-to-door to enforce quarantine orders for those leaving New York.

However, not all areas are expected to use heavy-handed tactics to impose their stay-at-home orders. Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said Tuesday that her city is unlikely to make arrests to enforce the rule.

“We don’t expect that we will have to issue any fines and jail penalties, because we expect the people of the District of Columbia to comply,” Bowser said at a press briefing. “The point is not to arrest anybody, the point is for people to stay at home.”