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New York and Maine deploy National Guard troops to bolster Covid response

“I do not take this action lightly, but we must take steps to alleviate the strain on our health care system," Maine Gov. Janet Mills said.
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Members of the National Guard assist people at New York's Javits Center during a vaccine drive in January, 2021.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

Governors in New York and Maine have activated National Guard troops to help respond to the Covid crisis amid a feared winter surge in cases, while New Hampshire is also expecting assistance.

In a statement on Wednesday, the New York National Guard announced that it had deployed 120 Army medics and Air Force medical technicians to 12 nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state.

The development comes just over a week after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered the mission on Dec. 1, citing staff shortages as "the risk of a winter spike in Covid-19 cases rises."

Already, Covid cases in the state have been on the rise in recent days, with hospitalizations climbing to 3,489, the highest they have been since April.

The New York National Guard said the nursing facilities were located from Long Island to Buffalo and north to the Canadian border.

The deployment is part of an ongoing Covid mission that was recently extended to next spring, the New York National Guard said. Before the mission was ordered, troops were already staffing 13 vaccination clinics and six logistic sites assembling Covid test kits.

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'I do not take this action lightly'

In Maine, National Guard troops have also been activated, with Gov. Janet Mills saying in a statement Wednesday the deployment would "help alleviate short-term capacity constraints at hospitals ... amid a sustained surge of Covid-19."

Mills said the decision was made following discussions with Maine's hospital systems and as the state and the rest of New England experience record hospitalizations during a sustained Covid-19 surge, which her office said was driven "almost entirely" by the delta variant.

“From the Ice Storm of ’98 to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Maine National Guard have always stepped up to serve our communities and our state, adapting to meet whatever challenges are in front of them," Mills said. "Today, in the midst of this sustained surge and with the potential for even more people to become sick and hospitalized, we are once again in need of their help."

Asserting that she would be deploying troops "to expand our hospitals’ ability to treat people with Covid-19 and other serious medical conditions," Mills said: "I do not take this action lightly, but we must take steps to alleviate the strain on our health care system and ensure care for all those who need it," she said.

The Maine governor also repeated calls for residents to get vaccinated, with her office noting that the majority of people hospitalized due to Covid were unvaccinated.

"For your health, for the health of an elderly person, for the health of a child, for our health care workers, for the National Guard, get vaccinated, please," she said. "It may save your life or someone else’s.” 

As of Wednesday there was a record high 379 people in hospitals with Covid-19 in Maine, including 117 in critical care and 60 on ventilators. Meanwhile, there were just 42 intensive care unit beds available in the state, according to the governor's office.

New Hampshire’s governor has also called on the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help the state prepare “for the winter surge” as he requested assistance with staffing health care facilities. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that National Guard and FEMA would be deployed to New Hampshire hospitals to help with the state's Covid response, NBC Boston reported.

Sununu said FEMA would be sending at least 24 health care professionals to a hospital as early as this weekend, while the governor said dozens of National Guard members would be deployed to hospitals over the coming weeks.

As Covid cases and hospitalizations soared this month, the governor said: "The winter surge is definitely upon us." 

"This is an all-hands-on-deck effort," he said.