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New York National Guard, Brazil share COVID-19 experiences

By Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell | New York National Guard | Oct. 2, 2020

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LATHAM, N.Y. – New York was one of the states impacted the most by the COVID-19 pandemic, so New York National Guard members passed on lessons learned in mitigating the virus to their Brazilian counterparts during a videoconference Sept. 29.

The New York National Guard is developing a relationship with Brazil’s military through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.

Soldiers assigned to the state's Medical Command laid out how New York dealt with COVID-19 in going from having some of the highest rates of infection in the country to some of the lowest.

The shared experiences of New York and Brazil were aimed at creating a better understanding of which responses are the most successful at handling the pandemic during the discussion with Brazilian ambassadors, doctors and members of the Brazilian military.

During the conversation, the Brazilians said their perception of the pandemic was that “it was a terror in New York.”

Brazil, with a population of 210 million, has recorded nearly 5 million coronavirus cases. The United States, with a population of 330 million, has reported 7 million cases.

“New York was one of the first epicenters in the United States,” said Col. Dennis Deeley, who commanded the Javits Medical Center in New York City. “The governor requested assistance of the National Guard at the early stages of the pandemic.”

At its peak, over 3,600 members of the New York National Guard were on duty responding to the pandemic across the state. Ultimately, 1 in 4 New York Guard members served in a COVID-19 response capacity.

Deeley told the Brazilians the state set up five joint task forces across New York to manage personnel, logistics and medical assets. Because of this structure, Deeley said resources were never overwhelmed. However, he did say testing was an issue at first.

“This was originally a limiting factor for New York,” Deeley said. “New York encountered this in early March and saw an improvement in May once increased quantity was available. Drive-through testing was very effective.”

The Brazilians asked if the New York National Guard was ever used to enforce quarantine measures.

“No,” Deeley said. “The people in New York got the message very quickly. They took the brunt of it.”

The New Yorkers and Brazilians discussed the use of field hospitals, as each have had their own epicenters. New York had New York City and Brazil had Sao Paulo, with 247,000 and 972,000 cases.

Deeley talked about how New York built up four alternate care facilities across the state, with only the one established at Manhattan’s Javits Convention Center coming online.

He explained to the Brazilians that even though only one was used, New York was ready for things to get worse before they got better.

There have been more than 32,000 COVID-19 deaths in New York, and more than 145,000 in Brazil. The two sides wrapped up their video call with a better understanding of how each dealt with the pandemic and how the two sides can continue to work together on major issues.

Speaking through a translator, Dr. Paulo Rossi Menezes, disease control coordinator at the Brazilian State Department of Health, and Col. Walter Nyakas, chief secretary of the Military House and state coordinator of civil protection and defense of the State of Sao Paulo, concluded the call with an eloquent “thank you,” and expressed the desire for more discussion.

“This is the reality of what we’re living with,” they said.