73 Guardsmen activated to COVID-19 response efforts in Montana

Seventy three Montana Army and Air National Guard men and women have been activated for state active duty by Gov. Steve Bullock in response to COVID-19.

Guardsmen will be used in 11 cities and 17 locations within those cities around the state beginning duties April 3, according to a release from the Montana National Guard.

March 31 updates: 9th case assigned to Cascade County; Bullock issues directives for landlords, residential foreclosures; Great Falls Clinic closing on Fridays

“Per the governor’s directive, the Guardsmen will be tasked to screen individuals arriving in Montana from other states and countries through our airports and train stations. The soldiers and airmen will be located at airports in:  Bozeman, Billings, Kalispell, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls and Butte. Screening will include all arriving passengers at the airport terminals and most privately owned fixed base operations located at these major airports. We will also be screening individuals entering Montana by train at stations in: Whitefish, Havre, Shelby and Wolf Point,” Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn, the Adjutant General and Montana COVID -19 Task Force leader, said in a release.

Each location will have a Montana National Guard liaison officer to work with local Disaster and Emergency Services representatives, public health officials, airport management and Transportation Safety Administration officials. The liaison will work with each team to monitor inbound flight and train arrivals, according to the release.

March 30 update: New presumptive positive in Cascade County, unconfirmed; Bullock orders quarantine for incoming travelers; 4 COVID-19 deaths in Montana; 177 cases statewide; county clerk and recorder’s office by appointment only; municipal court changes

Prior to being staged at the airports and train station, all Guardsmen will be trained in how to properly screen, wear protective equipment and be fully versed on the governor’s directive for execution, according to the release.

During a March 31 briefing, Gov. Steve Bullock said National Guardsmen will be at airports taking temperatures of people coming off planes and give them some information on the quarantine directive.

Guardsmen do not have the authority to detain anyone with a temperature but will recommend that they talk to a healthcare provider, Bullock said.

“At the request of the governor, Montana National Guardsman volunteers are stepping forward across the state to assist in the on-going effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In this time of need, the National Guard team will conduct screening with professionalism and will always treat Montana citizens and visitors with the dignity and respect they are entitled to. We are preparing our soldiers and airmen to respond to all future requests for assistance to support communities across the state,” Quinn said in a release.

For now, the Guardsmen are on state active duty, meaning state funded.

The Montana Disaster and Emergency Services division submitted a request to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and if that request is approved by the Secretary of Defense, the troops will be funded by the federal government, according to a Montana National Guard Capt. Dan Bushnell. The state is expecting that conversion to happen in the next few days, Bushnell told The Electric.

Right now, it’s a state controlled, state funded task. If the federal agencies approve the request to convert to federally funded state active duty, it will be a state controlled, but federally funded task, Bushnell said.

The Montana congressional delegation sent a letter on April 1 to President Trump asking him to approve federal funding for the Montana National Guard response to COVID-19.

“We write to urge you to quickly approve the request made by Governor Steve Bullock for additional authorities and funding under Title 32 U.S. Code 502(f)(2)(A) to assist the State of Montana confront the COVID-19 outbreak. Governor Bullock requests this authority for the Montana National Guard as they respond to incidents related to COVID-19 emergency response efforts,” the members of Congress wrote to Trump, according to a release.

Several states have already been approved to receive federal funding for National Guard mobilization, which remains under state control.

“We urge your prompt approval of this request so Governor Bullock may fully use the Montana National Guard to support Montana’s emergency response efforts. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this critical request,” the delegation wrote to Trump.

Last week, the House and Senate approved, and the president signed, the bipartisan CARES Act that includes $1.4 billion for deployment of the National Guard. This funding level sustains up to 20,000 members of the National Guard under the direction of the governors of each state for the next six months to support state and local response efforts to the public health crisis, according to a release.