Maryland's National Guard Stepping Up to Help Bring Coronavirus Testing Centers Online

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Posted: Mar 20, 2020 6:40 PM

Landover, Maryland — Members of Maryland's National Guard were in the parking lot of FedExField, home of the Washington Redskins, on Friday, not to attend a game that was showing appreciation for the U.S. military, but rather to do their part in helping curb the ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) activated the state's National Guard on March 12 to assist local officials after the state's third confirmed case of COVID-19. At FedExField, Capt. Brendan Cassidy told Townhall the 1297th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), the 1229th Transportation Company, and the 1729th Maintenance Company were constructing a temporary site to conduct testing for the coronavirus. The parking lot was complete with plenty of mobile handwashing stations.

The contingent, around 70 soldiers, were in the beginning stages of building the testing site. A total of 12 tents will be constructed to process potential cases. Due to the constantly evolving situation in the state, Cassidy said they are unsure when the site will be able to begin testing people as the site is under the authority of the Prince George's County Emergency Management.

The effort is to bolster medical service's testing abilities for COVID-19, which was lacking when cases first started to appear in the United States, but the ability to test has increased.

Maryland National Guardsmen laying out tents. Credit: Julio Rosas/Townhall

As some government officials, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are demanding a stronger military response to COVID-19, Cassidy noted the unique challenge of assembling National Guard units because of the virus. Since they are following the Center for Disease Control guidelines, they have to balance standing up the units while ensuring they are not calling up someone who was potentially exposed to the virus and infecting the rest of the unit.

The Department of Defense has also stated they do not pull away first responders and medical professionals from their civilian duties. Cassidy, who works as a Baltimore City officer, said if the police department calls him back, "then off I go."

The DoD says as of Thursday, the National Guard has been activated in 23 states.

Maryland National Guardsmen finish setting up a tent. Credit: Julio Rosas

Sergeant First Class Roopnarine, a State Department employee in the civilian world, said the Guard is adapting to the new health guidelines while carrying on their mission in short notice. 

"That's what the Army National Guard does, we have to be ready to respond at any moment's notice in times of crisis," he said.

Chief Warrant 2 Officer Zottoli, who was on his first stateside activation, said the threat of the virus had disrupted how they carry out daily military operating procedures but added, "we're pretty much adaptable to any situation."

Zottoli said they changed the types of formations they hold, now further spread out, and communicate heavily by phone instead of in person. He added the units are focusing heavily on cleanliness.

It wasn't just soldiers who were bringing the site to life. FedExField stadium workers were helping establish the perimeter by moving Jersey barriers into place.

Maryland National Guardsmen filling sandbags to anchor tents. Credit: Julio Rosas

In true military fashion, as the Guardsmen were filling sandbags to anchor the tents, it began to rain with strong wind gusts.

"If it ain't raining, we ain't training," a solider said.

Soldiers who live alone or with people who are staying inside are allowed to go home. Soldiers who may be exposed to the virus at home are staying in nearby hotels. The officers and senior enlistees who have offices on base have taken it upon themselves to sleep in their offices while on state duty.

COVID-19, which originated in the city of Wuhan, China, has spread to all corners of the globe after the authoritarian Chinese government's initial response proved to be too slow and more focused on slowing the spread of the news than the spread of the virus.