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La. National Guard deployed to help at coronavirus test sites, find space for hospital beds

Louisiana National Guard (U.S. Army National Guard/Flickr)

Almost 240 Louisiana National Guard soldiers and airmen have been activated and are deployed to help with the state and local responses to the coronavirus, particularly in the New Orleans area.

The guardsmen have been placed throughout the state to help set up test sites, provide medical support and aid local governments as they look for facilities that could accommodate an overflow of patients from area hospitals, Sgt. First Class Denis Ricou said. Guardsmen are also stationed as liaisons to various governments throughout the state, Ricou said.

More than 100 of the activated guardsmen are helping set up the three testing sites around the New Orleans area at Armstrong Park, the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena and the Alario Center in Westwego, Ricou said. Once testing supplies arrive, the guardsmen will be involved in all stages of the process from gathering samples for the tests to assisting with traffic control, he said.

In addition, the 225th Engineer Brigade has sent guardsmen to help evaluate buildings that could be used for additional hospital beds as the pandemic continues, Ricou said. New Orleans officials have said they’re eyeing several options for such temporary facilities, including space in the old Veterans Affairs hospital.

Guardsmen are also providing medical support and acting as conduits for information and requests from local governments and the state to the military, he said.

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The sight of guardsmen around the city has kicked the rumor mill into high gear in New Orleans. Ricou dismissed the idea that the guardsmen were there to enforce shelter-in-place orders or take other more extreme measures.

“We don’t move into somewhere and take charge,” he said. “Everything we do is to assist the local state and parish agencies that are out there. We’re a force multiplier for these different agencies.”

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© 2020 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate