La. National Guard boosts pandemic response as omicron surges
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The omicron surge has forced the Louisiana National Guard to boost its pandemic task force.
Almost 1,000 guardsmen and airmen stepped up to engage in the COVID fight nearly two years ago and remain active at dozens of testing and vaccination sites across the state.
Sergeant Jene Simmons, a working mother of a one-year-old, has been involved in the fight against COVID since November of 2020.
“I never thought I would live through a pandemic... so yes this is something new but it’s really awesome to be on the front lines helping out,” said Simmons.
Simmons runs the COVID testing and vaccination site at the Alario Center near her West Bank home and with the onset of omicron, she’s had to staff up.
“I think I brought in six or seven more people to our team,” she said.
State-wide, the Louisiana National Guard has nearly doubled its number of testing sites from 19 to 35 since the omicron surge began and has increased staff by around 10%.
“We have 923 of our service members on orders right now in support of the pandemic across the state of Louisiana,” said Brig. Gen. Cindy Haygood, who heads the La. National Guard’s COVID task force.
The guard was tasked to man the coronavirus front lines at a time when the death toll was high and hospitals were overwhelmed. Many guardsmen continue to do stints overseas, or assisting with hurricanes, and the stress level is high.
“We ask them to make sure they’re taking their leaves, getting back with their families, and refresh their bodies and minds like everybody else,” Gen. Haygood says.
The guard’s COVID task force has learned a lot in 22 months and testing at the Alario Center is now running smoothly.
As omicron numbers continue to set new daily records, National Guard boots on the ground say they have no idea how long this pandemic fight will continue.
“That’s the million-dollar question. I don’t have a crystal ball to determine what variant is going to come next,” said Gen. Haygood.
The big question is how long will the guard remain active in a COVID task force few ever dreamed of.
“We don’t know. If they need us here, we will be here,” said Simmons.
And no one knows how much longer the testing sites will remain active.
All of the nearly guardsmen and airmen involved in the COVID task force are volunteers. Gen. Haygood says in spite of their duty on the COVID front lines, no member of the guard has become critically ill.
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