LATHAM, N.Y. – More than 1,300 members of the New York National Guard remain on duty for the state's COVID-19 response, 225 days after initial operations began in New Rochelle in early March.
Since that first effort, members of the Army National Guard, Air National Guard, the New York Naval Militia, New York Guard and agency employees have "rushed to the sound of the guns," Army Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York, said during an Oct. 13 online video panel conducted as part of the Association of the United States Army virtual convention.
"I know it is a common military phrase, but I've seen nothing but great volunteerism, patriotism and enthusiasm of our members, the same as the police, fire and other emergency responders" during the statewide response, Shields said.
Boots on the ground peaked in late April with more than 3,600 personnel on duty statewide.
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are now conducting four COVID-19 response missions.
Soldiers and Airmen continue to help staff 15 COVID-19 drive-in test sites across the state from Long Island to Buffalo. As of Oct. 15, members helped administer 661,683 tests at those locations.
New York National Guard personnel are also helping state emergency and department of health personnel conduct logistics operations at seven warehouse facilities across New York.
Another enduring mission is the assembly of COVID-19 test kits – more than 3.8 million so far – for statewide distribution.
On Oct. 17, New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen began assisting the Department of Health in screening travelers entering New York at state airports.
New York State directs travelers arriving from states with significant community spread to quarantine for 14 days as a precaution. The information assists in potential contact tracing should the need arise.
Balancing pandemic missions with ongoing military missions, training and recruiting provided unique challenges, Shields told the AUSA audience.
While more than 4,500 personnel have performed some pandemic response duties this year, the New York National Guard has deployed 1,000 of its Soldiers and Airmen overseas, he said.
In a remarkable achievement in a time of social distancing, statewide missions and deployments, Shields said New York had exceeded its Army and Air National Guard recruiting and retention goals statewide.
Shields credits much of that to the very public display of Soldiers and Airmen across communities in the state.
"These last few months have been an adventure for every state dealing with COVID-19, and our Soldiers and Airmen of the New York National Guard have done a tremendous job in being flexible and responsive and being there for their fellow citizens for whatever missions come our way," Shields said. "Along with all our leaders, I am especially proud of what our service members have accomplished."
Even as New York has kept its COVID-19 positive test rate at or below 1 percent since Aug. 4, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo continues to recommend vigilance.
"As we go through the fall and into the winter and cases continue to rise across the country, it's going to take the work of all New Yorkers to maintain our progress," Cuomo said Oct. 16. "We cannot and will not risk going backwards to where we were in the spring."