States turning to National Guard for COVID-19 help as omicron surges

Several states are turning to their National Guards for help as they see spikes in demand for coronavirus testing and other pandemic needs during the omicron surge. 

Governors have been deploying their guards since the pandemic began to help with a variety of needs. But over the past year, the spread of the delta and omicron variants has spurred the need for backup personnel.

On Jan. 3, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineStates dole out mega-subsidies in bid to lure companies Ohio election chief tests positive for COVID-19 Intel to build B Ohio factory amid chip shortage MORE (R) announced that about 300 members of his state’s National Guard will support state testing efforts in nine new cities. A week earlier he had mobilized an additional 1,250 members to support hospitals that critically needed the help.

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Overall, over 2,300 members of the state’s National Guard are working with Ohio’s health care systems.

“The demand for COVID-19 testing increases, adding to the pressure our hospitals are facing, members of the Ohio National Guard will continue to play a critical role in the state’s response,” DeWine said in a statement last Monday. “I commend Guard members for their commitment to their fellow Ohioans as they answer the call to serve.”

Over the past week, several other states, including Minnesota and Rhode Island, also announced they would mobilize the National Guard to support testing capacity.

California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomLos Angeles lawmakers vote to support ban on new oil wells Newsom, California lawmakers reach deal on COVID-19 sick pay California bill would require all schoolchildren to be vaccinated against COVID-19 MORE (D) on Friday announced he’s mobilizing 200 members of the California National Guard to support testing facilities amid the omicron surge. 

The deployments come as the U.S. sees a rapid spike in COVID-19 infections largely fueled by the omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa on Nov. 14.

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The first confirmed case of omicron was identified in the U.S. on Dec. 1, and the spread of infections that has ensued has placed a new strain on testing and hospital capacity.

Maryland Gov. Larry HoganLarry HoganGovernors declare state of emergency ahead of severe winter weather McConnell aims to sidestep GOP drama over Trump 3 Baltimore firefighters dead after being trapped in burning row house MORE (D) declared a state of emergency on Tuesday and mobilized as many as 1,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen to support the state for COVID-19 testing, to help local hospitals and to assist with patient transport. 

“The truth is that the next four to six weeks will be the most challenging of the entire pandemic,” Hogan said at the time. “All of the emergency actions we are taking today are to keep our hospitals from overflowing, to keep our kids in school, and to keep Maryland open for business, and we will continue to take whatever actions are necessary in the very difficult days and weeks ahead.”

In some states, troops are being deployed just as coronavirus-related missions were set to wind down.

Hawaii in mid-December was just about to mark the end of the Hawaii National Guard Joint Task Force that was supporting the state’s COVID-19 response but reversed the decision amid an increase in infections sparked by the omicron variant.

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And on Jan. 3, the Oregon Air National Guard announced the end to a mission that began in August to support hospitals amid a COVID-19 surge, but said a small contingent of staff would continue the mission through the end of February. 

Days later, Gov. Kate BrownKate BrownStates turning to National Guard for COVID-19 help as omicron surges Oregon declares state of emergency as area braces for winter storm Oregon extends state of emergency due to omicron spread MORE (D) announced that she will be mobilizing up to 500 Guard members to support health care workers amid the omicron surge. An initial 125 troops will be deployed this week.  

As governors mobilize their National Guard members, the Department of Defense is separately aiding states amid the surge.

President BidenJoe BidenFormer chairman of Wisconsin GOP party signals he will comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoena Romney tests positive for coronavirus Pelosi sidesteps progressives' March 1 deadline for Build Back Better MORE announced last month that he instructed the Pentagon to mobilize an additional 1,000 active-duty service members to help at medical facilities. Thus far, it has sent active-duty medical personnel to several states over the past month specifically to alleviate hospitals.

In New Hampshire, for instance, 17 active-duty service members arrived last Monday and are set to depart in February.

“We are grateful to have this team here in New Hampshire, and we continue to press for all available resources as we combat this winter surge,” Gov. Chris SununuChris SununuThe Armageddon elections to come Legislatures move to limit governor powers after pandemic Juan Williams: It's Trump vs. McConnell for the GOP's future MORE (R) said in a statement announcing the service members’ arrival.