(The Center Square) – Nearly 450 National Guard members have been pressed into active duty around Massachusetts, the governor announced.
In a news release, Gov. Charlie Baker said the troops will support COVID-19 testing in schools and offset staffing shortages within the Department of Corrections.
“We are grateful that the National Guard has stepped up once again, as they have throughout the COVID-19 response, to serve the Commonwealth where needed,” Baker said in the release. “Today’s activations will ensure that we have additional staffing support for our school testing programs to help kids stay safe and will allow DOC to respond to possible staffing shortages. While we are overall pleased with the progress we are seeing with Commonwealth employees submitting vaccination attestations, we will take whatever steps are necessary to safely run all correctional facilities.”
The governor said 200 National Guard members are supporting testing in schools, while an additional 250 soldiers will be working at state prisons.
“The Guard has a long history of supporting our communities in times of need, and have answered the call time and time again during the pandemic,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said in the release. “We thank the servicemembers on these missions who will provide critical support to these two areas.”
According to the release, the state offers three types of testing in schools – test and stay, symptomatic testing, and pooled testing – which soldiers will be aiding the state’s 2,200 schools in performing testing. Soldiers will begin training this week and will begin administering COVID-19 testing in selected schools on Oct. 18.
Jeffrey Riley, the state’s Education Commissioner, said he is thankful for the guard members who will be working in schools.
“The National Guard was there when we needed them to drive some children to school due to a nationwide bus driver shortage, and now we are thankful they are once again willing to serve the children of the Commonwealth with COVID-19 testing,” Riley said.
Guard members who will be stationed at prisons will begin training this week and will be deployed Oct. 17, according to the release, to assist with transportation and exterior security aspects within the prison system.
The Department of Corrections, according to the release, is preparing for a possible reduction in staffing due to noncompliance with the governor’s order that all executive branch employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“DOC staff has performed remarkably throughout the pandemic. As we continue to navigate an unprecedented public health crisis, well-being and safety remain our priority, and we appreciate the large number of staff who have submitted their vaccination attestation forms ahead of the deadline,” said DOC Commissioner Carol Mici. “We are grateful for the Guard’s assistance in supporting the DOC’s mission as we continue to encourage our staff to comply with the vaccination mandate.”