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MAP: Here's where the National Guard is deployed for Covid response

More than 19,000 Guard members are deployed in 45 states, helping in schools, hospitals and nursing centers.
A member of the National Guard patrols outside of the U.S. Capitol on March 8, 2021, in Washington.
A member of the National Guard patrols outside of the U.S. Capitol on March 8, 2021, in Washington.Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images file

National Guard Specialist Simon Hammond’s current mission doesn’t have him fighting fires or coordinating a hurricane response. Instead, he has been ordered to teach math.

Hammond, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is filling in as a substitute teacher at Koogler Middle School in Aztec, 180 miles away. The school is one of many across the country experiencing staffing shortages as the omicron wave hobbled a return to in-person learning. Faced with a need for teachers, New Mexico’s governor asked the National Guard for assistance.

For Hammond, who manages a computer architecture and research group at a Department of Energy lab, teaching arithmetic was a natural fit.

“I do lots of math for work, so it's been a good match for me. If it'd been art or something like that, it probably would have been completely different,” Hammond said.

Thus far, the kids have been welcoming.. “I would say it’s pretty good. I mean, the kids are kind of curious… because we're going in in our Army uniforms. So some of the kids are like, ‘Oh man, this is really cool!’”

His mobilization may be unconventional, but it’s just one of the many jobs being filled by tens of thousands of guard members nationwide.

There are more than 19,000 National Guardsmen mobilized across the country to help states combat the virus as of Monday, according to data provided by the National Guard Bureau.

The Guard is providing doctors, nurses and support staff to hospitals overwhelmed with Covid patients, working in food banks, and helping care for the elderly.

The biggest mobilization is currently in Ohio, where more than 2,400 Guard members are on duty, followed by New York, then Texas.

The 19,000-member Covid response deployments are far larger than other mobilizations for recent national crises. For comparison, the Guard has more than 330 members currently responding to wildfires around the country, and nearly 10,000 members provided “civil disturbance” support after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol last year.

Ohio National Guard spokesperson Stephanie Beougher said that most guard members in the state have been assigned to Covid testing centers and about 60 hospitals across the state to help with clinical and general support.

In New York, more than 2,000 guard members are mobilized for Covid response, along with 62 members of the state volunteer New York Guard and 121 members of the New York Naval Militia.

About 22 states and Puerto Rico have active militias, or state guards, that are typically folded into state National Guard operations. New York’s state guard is all volunteer, as is Ohio’s.

Eric Durr, director of public affairs for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said that New York Guard members are deployed at 25 nursing homes and 28 vaccination sites, as well as testing sites.

At the nursing homes, Guard troops are performing duties similar to nurses, including helping with baths and meals and tending to the needs of residents.

Guard members are also providing assistance to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, supporting the recovery of remains.

In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little activated 75 National Guardsmen Monday to assist with the state health care system, as well as the state’s Department of Correction. That department is experiencing staff shortages due to Covid, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

And in New Mexico, there are 88 guard members in the classrooms as of Tuesday, according to the state’s Department of Education.

New Mexico Guard spokesperson Joseph Vigil said that this was the first time state guard members had served as substitute teachers, adding that the members must first pass qualification checks.

“Before our Soldiers and Airmen enter the classrooms, we ensure they are credentialed, vetted and qualified — to include background checks — the same as every other substitute teacher is required to do so,” Vigil wrote in an email to NBC News.

Guard mobilizations have followed the ebbs and flows of a virus that has moved across the country at different times and at different speeds. Pandemic mobilizations were at the highest at the start of the pandemic, reaching a peak of more than 47,000 members in May 2020, when personnel were sent to help overwhelmed hospitals and long-term care facilities.

In the initial surge, Hammond was mobilized to put his data skills to use monitoring cases and helping the state predict where testing would be needed.

The number of guard mobilizations diminished when cases declined in the fall of 2020, but ramped up when a winter surge of the virus sent Covid deaths to the half-million mark and guardsmen were needed to help with the start of the vaccination rollout, which began that December.

National Guard mobilizations have been on the rise since last fall, when the delta variant surged in the U.S., and that number has continued to climb during the latest omicron surge.

In New Mexico, the guard substitute program is expected to run through March, according to Judy Robinson, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Education.

New cases have declined in Ohio in the last two weeks, and Beougher, the state’s guard spokesperson, said that hospital and testing missions will be coming to a close in portions of the state, leading to a drawdown in the coming weeks.

“The Ohio National Guard members who served their community during a time of great need during the Covid surge will be returning to their families, civilian obligations, and military training,” Beougher said in an email.