National Guard helps deal with pandemic

American Press

Some 1,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard have been activated to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and their assistance has been well received. There are 750 serving at food banks, mobile testing sites and temporary hospitals, and 300 of them work full-time in the Guard.

A combat medic with the rank of sergeant is putting her medical training to use at one of the two drive-thru testing sites in New Orleans. She told The Advocate after work one day she came across large social gatherings along Lakeshore Drive.

“We’ve been here in an astronaut suit trying to help people and get people tested, make people aware and give them information,” she said. “I feel like it’s not taken seriously as it should be sometimes.”

Unfortunately, that attitude has been more widespread than it should be and that may be one reason why the state’s case and death counts are so high per capita. Gov. John Bel Edwards extended his stay-at-home order Thursday to April 30 because of the growing number of cases and deaths.

The newspaper said some residents worried the Guard was called up like it was after Hurricane Katrina when guardsmen were armed and patrolling the streets. A public affairs officer said their primary goal is not necessarily to enforce the law but rather to keep the peace.

“There is a lot of confusion, and we’re helping to keep people calm and informed. It’s not a show of force. We’re here to help, as needed,” he said.

Louisiana has spent many millions fighting the coronavirus pandemic, but the federal government will be footing the bill for the National Guard’s deployment. That will free up funds for the emergency needs in other areas.

Food bank officials said volunteers were relieved to see the soldiers arrive to help. The food bank has increased its capacity to help feed schoolchildren, retirement homes and community members who have lost work.

Older volunteers at the food bank are staying home to limit their vulnerability to the coronavirus. Others are watching their children who are out of school, which one official said has been stressful.

The 30 soldiers working at the food bank are helping pack food for distribution, cooking meals and helping with deliveries. Their goal is to make 10,000 disaster relief boxes per week to distribute to the community.

National guardsmen are also working in Southwest Louisiana as well, helping at coronavirus testing sites. Let them know we appreciate their help during this extremely critical time.

Louisiana National Guard soldiers and airmen help with testing first responders for COVID-19 infections at Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans.

SSG Josiah Pugh / Special to American Press

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