NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana National Guard troops are no stranger to New Orleans in times of trouble.
It’s hard to forget their contributions after Hurricane Katrina when they helped keep the peace in the dark days after the 2005 storm and rescued countless residents who were trapped when 80 percent of the city flooded.
They are now back in the city responding to the latest emergency, the Coronavirus outbreak.
“Some of us have been here since last Wednesday at the request of the city,” Col. Kenneth Baillie, the Guard’s point man in the New Orleans said. “We’re prepared to fulfill any function the city asked us to help them with and Jefferson Parish as well.”
So far, 155 citizen soldiers and airmen have been activated for missions in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish.
Wednesday morning, 50 military medics trained in the city.
“Our medics gathered this morning and received some training on the use of personal protective equipment and swabbing process, so they will be prepared to help both those parishes once that testing starts,” Col. Baillie said.
New Orleans Homeland Security Director Collin Arnold hopes to have drive up Coronavirus testing sites two in the city and one in JP ready to go by Friday. The first three “pilot” sites would be reserved for first responders and medical workers.
“We started to take deliveries from the federal government of the testing kits and necessary protective equipment and supplies to do it,” Arnold said. “We provided at the city and state level quite a bit of material as well to set up the sites.”
National Guard troops are expected to perform other duties such as site security and traffic control.
They are also helping to stand up state and local buildings as overflow facilities for Coronavirus patients.
“Early on we did some engineering assessments of some city properties to judge their suitability if they were needed in response to the Coronavirus outbreak,” Col. Baillie said.
One of the buildings checked for the city’s “Medical Surge Operation” is the now shuttered LSU Interim Hospital near downtown.
“I would just say there were 15 sites around the city both state and local buildings focused primarily on healthcare facilities that maybe were not utilized,” Arnold said.
Arnold called the Guard’s assistance “invaluable.”
“When we get into these situations, you just have to roll and keep going until it’s over,” Arnold said. “That’s what they do. When you give them a mission, like we’ve given them a mission…they get it done.”
The National Guard is also expected to help set up disaster food sites in the New Orleans area.
“One of the things the mayor has asked is the possibility of opening DSNAP sites,” Col. Baillie said. “If that happens, we’ll certainly assist with DSNAP sites.”
The number of National Guardsmen and women and military assets utilized is expected to grow until the Coronavirus threat subsides.
Governor John Bel Edwards authorized up to 400 to be called up for this mission.
But, the number of National Guard troops is expected to grow until the Coronavirus threat stabilizes.