National Guard Chief Sees ‘Tens of Thousands’ Deployed for Virus

“Tens of thousands” of U.S. National Guard personnel are likely to be deployed in the fight to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the Guard’s chief said Thursday.

About 2,000 members of the reserve force have already been mobilized at the request of governors in 27 states, and the number could double by the weekend, Air Force General Joseph L. Lengyel, head of the National Guard Bureau, said at a Pentagon briefing.

“We expect the total number of guardsmen activated will increase rapidly as test kits become available and as the situation unfolds,” he said.

While there has been talk of President Donald Trump issuing an order to “federalize” the Guard, Lengyel argued forcefully for leaving it to governors to call on the Guard as needed. In part, he said, that’s because the posse comitatus law prevents the federal government — but not the states — from using the military for policing functions.

“It’s a much more efficient system” to leave the Guard at the state level, Lengyel said. He said activating the Guard at federal status, known as Title 10, would cost “billions and billions of dollars,” he said.

Under state status, the National Guard can assist police on patrols and enforce civilian laws.

The Guard’s current mission includes helping states respond to the outbreak, supporting medical testing facilities and assisting with disinfecting and cleaning of common public spaces, according to a statement from the Guard. Members are also providing transportation support for health-care providers and assistance to state emergency response centers, it said.

— With assistance by Travis J Tritten

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