BY ELLEN MITCHELL – 03/19/20 12:54 PM EDT
Tens of thousands of National Guard troops could be activated in states across the country in the next several weeks to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the head of the National Guard said Thursday.
“It’s hard to tell what the exact requirement will be, but I’m expecting tens of thousands to be used inside the states as this grows,” National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel told reporters at the Pentagon.
“I think that this could quickly blossom in the next couple of weeks as governors and states determine their needs and ways to use their National Guards.”
All 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia have declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
As of Thursday, governors in 27 states have activated a total 2,050 Guardsmen.
Lengyel said the bureau anticipates that number will go up “relatively quickly, in fact, doubling by this weekend.”
Asked if the White House could federalize the Guard to respond to the illness, Lengyel said that President Trump could do so if desired but that such a move “would not make sense in this situation.”
“Every state has a different way to deal with disasters. If you were to federalize [the Guard], you would lose that ability.”
He added: “There’s no plans that I’m aware of to take the National Guards in the states and put them in a federal status. They’re much better used in a state status under the command and control of the governors.”
Lengyel likened the coronavirus pandemic to dealing with “54 separate hurricanes in every state, territory and the District of Columbia … unlike a hurricane we don’t know when this is going to dissipate or move out to sea.”
Currently the Guard is providing medical testing and assessments, facilities, ground transportation and logistics and planning, among other services across the states.
The Tennessee National Guard, for example, on Wednesday helped deliver 500,000 coronavirus testing swabs brought to the United States from Italy earlier this week.
Lengyel said there are six Guardsmen who have tested positive for coronavirus. In the active-duty force there are 51 confirmed cases, as of Thursday morning.