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W.Va. Guard’s federal COVID mission ending

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia National Guard’s federal COVID-19 mission officially ends today, but 60 members will remain on active duty for the state until September and the force remains ready to assist when needed, state officials said Thursday.

During his online COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Jim Justice announced the change and praised the work of Guard troops since the start of the pandemic, noting it was their longest federal mission.

“In every step, our National Guard was there helping us every way,” he said.

The change comes as the funding mechanism for the Guard’s COVID support changes. Previously, Guard personnel activated as part of the whole-of-America response to the pandemic have been under the command of state governors but funded 100 percent by the U.S. Department of Defense. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, governors may still activate Guard personnel for COVID support, but it will be on state active duty, eligible for 90 percent reimbursement from FEMA.

Since March 2020, Justice said, the Guard has:

— Supported 5,779 COVID-19 testing lanes for more than 100,000 citizens.

— Supported 11,187 COVID vaccination lanes.

— Conducted 146,568 data entries for contact tracing with local health departments.

— Completed 5,194 delivery missions for personal protective equipment and supplies to all 55 counties.

— Disinfected 644 vehicles and 365 facilities.

— Supported 37 hospitals and long-term care facilities in 26 counties.

“Absolutely, the National Guard in this state needs to be thanked and loved and appreciated forever,” Justice said. “They did an unbelievable job, and they continue to do that today.”

Maj. Gen. William “Bill” Crane, the Guard’s adjutant general, noted some personnel have actually been hired by hospitals and other health care facilities full-time after helping out during difficult periods of the pandemic.

After March, the mission moved largely to delivering supplies around the state, including protective gear and testing materials, Justice said.

The state’s joint interagency task force requested some continued support from the Guard, which is why 60 members are being left active, said James Hoyer, head of the task force and retired adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard.

Justice and Crane “are both making sure there is not a lapse in the service we need to continue to support our COVID mission,” Hoyer said.

And should the need arise, the Guard will be ready to answer the call again.

“We’re not going to have any issue responding to any events that may come up,” Crane said.

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