NEW YORK – An officer from Israel’s Home Front Command, the branch of Israel’s military that handles natural disasters and emergencies, got a firsthand look at how the New York National Guard responded to the COVID-19 response.
Lt. Col. Hai Rekah, spent the day July 15 visiting a COVID-19 testing site in Westchester County and the Javits Convention Center, which was turned into a temporary hospital where 1,095 patients were treated during the peak of the pandemic in New York.
Home Front Command has many of the same duties as the National Guard, Rekah explained. So it made sense for him to speak with New York National Guard Soldiers and leaders.
The New York National Guard has had a homeland security cooperation partnership with the Home Front Command since 2005 to share and learn best practices.
“We have very similar activities like testing, emergency operation center, support to nursing homes (and) food distribution,” Rekah said.
Rekah’s visit came as Israel faces its own rise in positive COVID-19 cases since late June.
Israel has more than 46,500 cases in a nation of 8.8 million. Almost 400 have died as of mid-July.
The New York delegation met Rekah first at the Jakob K. Javits Convention Center in midtown Manhattan.
The New York National Guard provided staffing for the unified task force headquarters, overseeing the logistics, administration and medical operations of military and civilian agencies.
Rekah met with Army National Guard Cols. Michael Bice, the former incident commander of the Javits New York Medical Station, Todd Bookless, the commander of the 53rd Digital Liaison Detachment and liaison officer to the New York City Office of Emergency Management, and Robert Mitchell, the New York National Guard director of operations.
The three provided a timeline of pandemic response efforts and the scope of the New York National Guard response, which peaked at more than 3,600 service members in every corner of the state.
“We have a great relationship with the Home Front Command and have for many years,” Mitchell said. “This timely exchange of ideas and procedures will be very beneficial to the Guard, and it is our hope that it helps the response in Israel as well.”
The Javits New York Medical Station at one time had the capacity for more than 4,000 beds and was staffed by active military force medical providers.
Originally intended as a site for non-COVID cases, the mission shifted to treating COVID-19 patients. That shift in missions required significant staff, medical equipment and logistical additions to the original layout.
Rekah walked through the Javits Center to discuss the various military missions the National Guard conducted to supervise the day-to-day operations of the site. New York National Guard forces provided supply warehousing, helped install hospital beds, led interagency staffs and provided access control to the site.
The final patient at Javits left May 29. The convention center is now in a state of standby readiness in case of an increase in COVID cases or in case of a second wave.
“It’s very impressive to see what you did here and how you support the people of New York,” Rekah said. “This is one of the examples that we can learn from you. I hope we will not need it, but we have to prepare, and we can use this as an example if there’s a second wave,” Rekah said.
From the Javits Center, the group visited New Rochelle for a tour of the Glen Island Park drive-thru swab site. He spoke with state health officials and was given an overview of how the process functioned, from motorist intake to swabbing and exit.
The Glen Island Park test site was established in mid-March to address the cluster of positive COVID-19 cases spreading in New Rochelle.
The site was capable of testing up to 500 residents per day. National Guard forces provided access control, logistics support and medical staff to assist with the testing.
In the four months of operations since March 13, the National Guard supported more than 45,712 tests at the site.
“On this visit, I learned a lot, and I’m going to transfer it to the Home Front Command,” Rekah said. “This is part of our partnership, our security cooperation, and I’m very proud of it.”