National Guard member helps a person in a wheelchair enter a facility

A National Guard soldier helps a person in a wheelchair as they enter a New York City vaccination site in February 2021; Credit: Michael M. Santiago /Staff/Getty Images

The ongoing domestic military response to COVID-19 in New York state, which includes assistance to nursing facilities, is the largest in U.S history by length of mission, number of deployed military and diversity of missions, investigators report.

Operation COVID-19 mobilized forces including the National Guard, State Guard and Naval Militia, with an assist from the Army Corps of Engineers, in early March 2020. To date, more than 7,000 service members have served across 200 mission sites. In nursing homes, for example, these forces worked to provide staffing and medical support, including testing and full-time labor.

To date, these forces have administered over 4 million vaccines, produced more than 35 million testing kits, delivered over 54 million meals and administered over 1.5 million tests, reported service member Kai Ruggeri, PhD, of Columbia University School of Public Health.

“Perhaps more so than ever, 2020 was the year that every soldier, guardswoman, guardsman, sailor, marine, airman [and] airwoman had the potential to become a public health professional,” Ruggeri said in a statement.

In an article in JAMA Health Forum, the investigators estimated that COVID-19 vaccination efforts, beginning in early 2021, helped to prevent tens of thousands of deaths and have allowed hospitals to provide their full spectrum of care as well as COVID-19 care. A peak number of 2,790 service members served at the Javits Center vaccination center in New York City, for example.

The authors detail the domestic military’s pandemic contributions, and note future recommendations. These include greater coordination between healthcare institutions and the state’s military forces, and improved recruitment of healthcare professionals in the National Guard. 

“Every service member can become a public health professional if the situation demands it,” Ruggeri said. “Thousands of service members have played a critical role in protecting the health of New Yorkers statewide.”

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