The problem worsened Thursday evening when thousands of troops on duty at the U.S. Capitol were ordered to evacuate convention buildings and take their breaks outside and in nearby parking garages. POLITICO received photos of security guards packed up and sleeping on the floor of the garages. One unit had to rest in a garage that had only one bathroom for 5,000 soldiers.
The Senate Regulatory Committee is investigating the issue, with a special focus on concerns about the Guard’s implementation of adequate coronavirus precautions, Sen. Roy Blunt, the top Republican on that body, told POLITICO. The decision to force thousands of troops into a full parking garage posed a Covid-19 threat, according to senators.
“I think we need to find out what went wrong because I think there will be a National Guard presence on campus for the foreseeable future,” added Murphy.
Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), The Republican chief on the Armed Forces Committee, said Friday morning that an official had “issued an order with no authority or chain of command,” adding, “We will be.” able to identify who that person was. “
Several senators drew attention to the matter Thursday evening, some even went direct to National Guard commanders and Capitol Police officers. Murphy spoke to the Capitol Police Chief, who has since denied that the department ordered troops to vacate Congress buildings.
Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who served in the National Guard for 22 years, said she and other lawmakers were in contact with Guard officials to keep troops stationed at the Capitol safe. And Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) Said he was outraged by the “ingratitude” towards the soldiers.
“Obviously the Senate wasn’t that involved because we were hoping it would be worked out between the Capitol police and the guard,” Murphy said. “Obviously there are some rough edges, so many of us are working on it right now.”
The leadership of the Guard has sought to put in place a comprehensive plan to test all members of the Guard upon arrival in Washington, DC and before leaving for their home base to limit the spread of the virus, said a guard from the under the condition of anonymity spoke discussing a sensitive topic. Most of the cases are asymptomatic and originate from the troops’ home stations, the guard said.
In the past few days, the Congress leadership has put a considerable effort into testing all 25,000 troops, both those continuing their mission in Washington, DC and those leaving, the guard also said. The aim is to test 100 percent of the strength in the next few days.
Despite the guard’s best efforts, more than 100 soldiers have tested positive and several hundred are being quarantined at nearby hotels after experiencing a positive case or showing symptoms.
Guardians say virus countermeasures have been implemented unevenly. Upon arrival in Washington, DC, several units received temperature checks only and asked about possible Covid-19 exposure, two guards told POLITICO. A member of the guard in Washington, DC said he and others were being forced to have their own Covid-19 test. Others exposed to the virus said they had been asked to ignore or cut their quarantine and report for duty as additional troops were urgently needed in the days leading up to the inauguration.
“We didn’t get any Covid tests on arrival,” said another guard member. “Right after the holidays they packed us up like sardines in buses and rooms.”
CDC guidelines for negative test quarantine, recommended after exposure to the virus because the tests are not 100 percent accurate, are increasingly “totally ignored,” the Guard member added.
Meanwhile, social distancing is “almost impossible” in the halls of convention, the DC armory, and parking garages. A guard member said the troops were housed in a confined space, making social distancing impossible.
“You should have seen late-coming states looking for space,” added the guard member. “It would have been a great sitcom: People who literally make offices out of hallways and unoccupied space.”
Many of the guards who spoke to POLITICO said their units had not received clear instructions on Covid-19 test plans for arrival in Washington, DC, or prior to departure. The troops currently in quarantine will present a “logistical challenge” when their units go home.
The guard has not finalized a plan for these members, but they will most likely either stay in their hotels until their quarantine is over or be transported home in separate vehicles with other Covid-19 positive troops, the person said.
Some members of the Guard, including members of the Wisconsin Air National Guard, were given the option to receive the first dose of the vaccine before being dispatched to Washington, DC. Others received the vaccine last week, and still others are due to have their first dose on Friday, a member of the Maryland Guard said. However, the Guard does not have a standardized plan to vaccinate all 25,000 troops before returning to their home states.