Seven cases of coronavirus have been confirmed among the nearly 200 Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers who were part of a massive security force for the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration, officials said today.
More than 25,000 National Guard troops converged on the nation’s capital from all 50 states and territories to help secure the transition of power following a deadly insurrection on Jan. 6 that saw pro-Donald Trump rioters storm the U.S. Capitol.
“The seven (Hawaii troops) that are positive remain in isolation and are asymptomatic,” the Hawaii National Guard said in a release. “Those seven and their families have the full support of the Hawaii National Guard. The State Department of Health has been notified and is assisting with contact tracing.”
The news comes amid a Pentagon briefing on the National Guard sent for the security duty at which District of Columbia National Guard commander Maj. Gen. William Walker raised alarm at the confirmation of almost 200 COVID-19 cases as of Monday.
“I am deeply troubled by the number,” Walker said. He added that “we follow the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, the Department of Defense protocols. We test and screened. However, we have that number.”
Walker said when a soldier or airman is sent to a treatment center for a test and that individual comes up positive, that person is quarantined, “and they remain here until they are cleared to go back to their state.”
Three flights of Hawaii National Guard soldiers returned to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Sunday. A final flight followed on Tuesday.
The Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery, and 227th Brigade Engineer Battalion flew out to Washington D.C. and back on three Hickam-based KC-135R refueling tankers and one C-17 cargo jet, officials said.
Face-masked troops toting M-4 rifles disembarked Sunday from one KC-135R at Hickam and were greeted with elbow bumps on the tarmac from Brig. Gen. Dann Carslon, commander of the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing, and Col. Tracey Omori, chief of the joint staff of the Hawaii National Guard, among others.
The Hawaii Air National Guard’s 203rd Air Refueling Squadron and 204th Airlift Squadron provided the airlift support.
“The flights were covered by federal dollars at no cost to the state,” Hawaii National Guard spokesman Jeff Hickman said previously. “They were also used as training sorties for the crews from the Hawaii Air National Guard.”
The citizen soldiers will be mobilized for 31 days with duty in the nation’s capital, processing back home, 14 days of at-home quarantine and a couple days of leave, Hickman said.
He said the Hawaii troops were medically screened before every shift in D.C., and as they’ve returned home, they were temperature-screened again and tested for COVID-19.
No coronavirus turned up in the ranks initially, he said. Even with a negative test result, they will have to quarantine at home.
The cost for the mobilization is being borne by the federal government under what’s known as Title 32 that maintains control of the Hawaii troops under Gov. David Ige.
Hickman said the cost for the Hawaii effort won’t be known until later. The National Conference of State Legislatures provided a ballpark figure for ongoing use of the National Guard for COVID-19 relief, saying the tab can run as much as $9 million per month per 1,000 troops mobilized.
About 800 Hawaii Guard troops remain mobilized for coronavirus help locally. President Joe Biden changed the federal payment to 100% for state COVID-19 relief duty from 75% under the Trump administration — a shift that U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said will save Hawaii millions.