‘Packed us together like sardines’: Guard deployed to Capitol struggles to contain Covid




Hundreds of Guard members who poured into Washington after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol have tested positive for Covid-19 or are quarantining in nearby hotels.

The National Guard has struggled to implement a plan to test troops flowing into and out of Washington, D.C., for Covid-19, with some Guard members being forced to find their own tests and others pressured to leave their quarantine early to report to duty.

Already, hundreds of Guard members who poured into Washington, D.C., after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol have tested positive for Covid-19 or are quarantining in nearby hotels, three Guard sources said. Guard leadership has declined to release an official number of positive cases, but troops and lawmakers alike worry that the deployment is becoming a superspreader event.

“Ideally, these guys should all be in hotels. When they’re taking rest time, they should be taking it outside the campus with an ability to be separated and socially distanced,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “Ultimately we’ve got to make sure that they’re not taking their extended rest time on campus, that they’re in hotel rooms.”

The problem was compounded on Thursday night, when thousands of troops who had been standing duty in the U.S. Capitol were told to vacate congressional buildings and take their rest breaks outside and in nearby parking garages. POLITICO obtained photos of Guard members packed together and sleeping on the ground in the garages. One unit was forced to rest in a garage with only one bathroom available for 5,000 troops.

The Senate Rules Committee is investigating the issue, with a particular focus on concerns about the Guard implementing proper coronavirus precautions, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, the top Republican on that panel, told POLITICO. The decision to force thousands of troops into a packed parking garage created a Covid-19 hazard, senators said.

“I think we’ve got to figure out what went wrong because I think there’s going to be a National Guard presence on campus for the foreseeable future,” Murphy added.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Friday morning that a Capitol Police officer “issued an order without authority or without going through the chain of command,” adding: “We are going to be able to identify who that person was.”

Several senators called attention to the matter on Thursday night, with some even reaching out directly to National Guard commanders and Capitol Police officials. Murphy spoke with the Capitol Police chief, who has since denied that the department ordered the troops to vacate congressional buildings.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who herself was a member of the National Guard for 22 years, said she and other lawmakers are in touch with Guard officials about ensuring a safe environment for troops stationed at the Capitol. And Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he was outraged over the “ingratitude” displayed toward the soldiers.

“Obviously the Senate had not gotten as involved in this because we had hoped it was being worked out between Capitol Police and the Guard,” Murphy said. “Obviously there’s some rough edges, so there’s a lot of us working on this right now.”

Though many Guard members began leaving the capital this week, thousands of troops could be asked to stay on duty through March to conduct riot security, according to three officials. The Guard is expecting the federal agencies to request that several thousand troops remain in D.C. in anticipation of additional unrest, one defense official said. The request would be routed through the Pentagon and the governors’ offices. first reported the news.

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