The coronavirus outbreak has brought together many organizations to fight the spread of this highly contagious disease, and that includes the military. Gov. Henry McMaster has called on the South Carolina National Guard to be on the alert in case it's needed.
Capt. Jessica Donnelly said the Guard is prepared to lend both people and trucks in case tents or other services or equipment need to be set up or transported.
"We can provide personnel and resources to help the hospitals and local health care facilities set up the mobile tents that they have outside to help facilitate, and then we can also provide transportation assets if those people need different things, like supplies transported between locations."
The actual need is not there yet, so the Guard is making plans for when it is called upon. Donnelly said it's unknown how many people would be needed, but that requests for aid would determine the extent of the resources the Guard would supply, and she used another emergercy to illustrate:
"For example, in past hurricane responses, we've have anywhere between 1000 and 2000 people that could get activated at one time, but for right now, we have about 15 people because we're in the planning phase."
Fort Jackson is also active in the fight, as it's seen the first few cases of COVID-19 affect its soldiers. Commanding General Milford Beagle said the cleaning and sanitization that goes into fighting communicable diseases is part of the fort's routine. But now it's doubling down with other steps.
"On any routine day before COVID-19, a platoon bay has a capacity of 60." But to accommodate social distancing, that number will be cut in half, he said. "So now you'll see a 60-person bay where you're only gonna have 30 soldiers in it."
In addition, access to the fort has been limited by changing graduation and family days, Beagle said. "Whereas we had anywhere from 3000 to 5000 families come in every week from Tuesday to Thursday, we've cut that completely. Now those things are live streamed to families across the country so that can see the graduations." Families also can no longer take their graduate soldiers to nearby bases to their next assignments, such as Augusta's Fort Gordon or North Carolina's Fort Bragg.
The fort does town hall meetings on Facebook Live to keep the public updated, Beagle said. Both he and Donnelly agreed that people are their biggest assets in fighting this disease and in any other emergency situations. Donnelly said the Guard's plan for assistance doesn't have an end date.
"We're available for as long as we're needed. We don't start looking at pulling out until the state says 'we no longer need you." We're a force of 9000 soldiers, so we have the personnel to be able to work on in shifts."
Both officers said their commands are ready to respond to whatever is asked of them, and made it clear that the needs of the community come first in the fight against COVID-19.