March 18, 2021 (ST. PAUL, Minnesota) – One year ago today, the Minnesota National Guard conducted its first mission to support the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the year since, the Minnesota National Guard has participated in one of the longest state responses in its history, one that is still ongoing.
On March 18, 2020, the Minnesota National Guard delivered more than 1,000 surgical masks to each of the eight emergency medical service regions in Minnesota for use by first responders and distributed 7,000 masks to the Minnesota State Patrol for follow-on delivery to provide protection to nursing home inspection teams.
Some of the Minnesota National Guard’s first missions involved additional logistical support, including distributing masks and other personal protective equipment from the Minnesota National Guard’s medical warehouse at Camp Ripley, assisting at the Minnesota Department of Health’s PPE warehouse and maintaining medical systems – including oxygen delivery systems and ventilators – for potential use. The Minnesota National Guard has also assisted the state with contracting support and identifying potential locations for alternate care facilities in the event that hospitals become overwhelmed.
In May, the Minnesota National Guard began providing COVID-19 testing for long-term care facilities in the state to help track and identify cases. On Memorial Day weekend, the Minnesota National Guard opened six of its armories to provide COVID-19 testing to the community. In September, the Minnesota National Guard started assisting with the state’s community-based testing sites, a mission that continues today. In all, the Minnesota National Guard has completed more than 400,000 COVID-19 tests.
COVID-19 drastically changed the way the Minnesota National Guard trains and deploys. In March, the Minnesota National Guard began remote training on drill weekends for most units in order to comply with State of Minnesota and Centers for Disease Control guidance on social distancing. Leaders created virtual training plans that focused on completing mandatory online training requirements and conducting communication and planning via teleconferencing capabilities.
COVID-19 impacted scheduled training for several units, specifically the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, as they prepared for their rotation to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. The brigade put into place several preventative measures to ensure the training rotation could still continue, while ensuring the safety of the Soldiers and their families.
In November, the Minnesota National Guard ramped up its COVID-19 response efforts and started training Soldiers and Airmen to assist in long-term care facilities. The Minnesota National Guard provided temporary nursing assistants to fill in at 21 facilities with staffing shortages due to COVID-19.
At its peak in December, the Minnesota National Guard had more than 500 Soldiers and Airmen supporting COVID-19 response efforts, including support to nasal and saliva testing sites and long-term care facilities. In 2020, the Minnesota National Guard supported 63,432 man-days
On December 28, the Minnesota National Guard administered the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Soldiers and Airmen as part of the Department of Defense’s Vaccine Pilot Program. Healthcare workers and Guardsmen activated for COVID-19 response were prioritized to receive the vaccine first and vaccinations were voluntary for those who wished to receive them.
By the end of January, the Minnesota National Guard was called in to assist the state at community vaccination sites around the state. The Minnesota National Guard has so far administered more than 10,500 vaccines to members of the community at three locations.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Minnesota National Guard stands ready to assist the state of Minnesota as directed by Governor Tim Walz. Our top priority remains ensuring the health and safety of the Soldiers and Airmen of the Minnesota National Guard and the citizens who live in the communities we serve.
Story by Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens, Minnesota National Guard public affairs