According to a report from Politico, over 100 members of the National Guard have tested positive for COVID-19 after they were “packed… together like sardines” in parking garages in a move that drew bipartisan outrage after Guardsmen provided security for President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Politico notes that the Guard has not released an official number of positive cases, but the Wall Street Journal puts the current figure at “close to 200,” noting that continued deployment of the guard in less-than-ideal conditions in Washington, D.C. risks rampant spread of the virus.
The conditions confronting the National Guard provoked national outrage on Thursday after pictures emerged of guard members taking extended rest breaks packed together in crowded parking garages. By one reckoning, about 5,000 Guard members were forced to share a single toilet.
The decision to order the Guard into these patently unacceptable quarters was apparently made by an as-yet unidentified member of the Capitol Police. According to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), that individual “issued an order without authority or without going through the chain of command. We are going to be able to identify who that person was.”
In addition to the discomfort and disrespect shown to the Guard members who were shunted into these conditions, it appears that the order likely contributed to what has now become a sizeable outbreak of COVID-19 among Guard members.
“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. Ultimately we’ve got to make sure that they’re not taking their extended rest time on campus, that they’re in hotel rooms,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
Although the inauguration was the ostensible reason for such a large National Guard presence in Washington, D.C., members of Congress from both parties anticipate that some measure of National Guard presence will be required at least through March, in order to provide increased security during the opening few months of the new Congress.
In addition to those who have already tested positive, an additional “several hundred” members of the Guard are currently being quarantined in hotels after coming into contact with known positive cases.
Congressional leadership in both chambers has made testing 100 percent of the remaining force a top priority, and claim to be working on aggressive protocols to protect the Guard members who remain.