Nearly 200 National Guard soldiers contract COVID-19 protecting Capitol, number could rise in coming days
A total of 25,000 National Guard men and women were deployed to Washington in the aftermath of the January 6 riot at the Capitol. Then, right after Inauguration Day, hundreds of troops were forced out of the Capitol and into a nearby parking lot for their rest breaks.
Three weeks after they were deployed, an estimated 200 members of the National Guard have now contracted the novel coronavirus, the Commanding General of the DC National Guard, Maj. Gen. William Walker, told the press.
Walker could not give the exact figure of the total number of soldiers who have been quarantined. He however said that anybody in 'close contact' with any soldier or airman who came up positive was being tested, followed by a 14-day isolation in Washington following the diagnosis. “I’m deeply troubled by the number,” Walker said.
Though mask-wearing is strictly enforced, troops are doing shifts as long as 12 hours. While guarding, they stand side-by-side, inside and outside on Capitol Hill. Pictures have shown that while taking indoor breaks, they often lay next to each other or took naps and meals in close proximity, sometimes without masks in place.
This distance was further reduced with very limited fresh air when they were asked to take their breaks in the parking garage, increasing their risk of contracting COVID-19 and virus transmission. "Knowing we have all shared the same room several hours a day, of course we are worried about COVID and being an extremely soft target for someone taking a cheap shot at soldiers,” said one soldier on conditions of anonymity to the press about being asked to take their rest breaks in the garage.
Another official, speaking anonymously, said the number of National Guard troops who tested positive could rise. Only some of the troops have been able to get the first round of vaccines but not everyone.
While nearly half of the deployed troops have made their way back to their home states, about 13,000 remain. This number will dwindle down to 7,000 by the end of the week, according to Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
The mission, originally activated by former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy for 30 days, will stretch well into March. The remaining 7,000 will be spread across agencies, with 550 working with DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, 500 with U.S. Park Police, 600 with the Secret Service and 5,000 with the Capitol Police.
The FBI has reportedly identified “several upcoming events,” acting Army Secretary John Whitley told reporters, that require troop presence, though he could not offer details. The impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump scheduled February 8 has been offered as an example of an event that might need the presence of troops.
The National Guard had released a statement earlier saying that it would not be discussing coronavirus cases with the press. But had added in its statement that all personnel were following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, including temperature checks when they left their home state and arrived in the city, along with a screening questionnaire.