The Wisconsin National Guard is training to conduct mobile testing procedures and specimen collection for COVID-19. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON – The leader of the Wisconsin National Guard is seeking to calm fears of military enforcement of rules put in place by Gov. Tony Evers to curb the spread of a virus that has caused four deaths statewide so far.
The Wisconsin National Guard is assisting state officials with their response to the outbreak of coronavirus but is not taking the place of law enforcement despite unfounded rumors to the contrary, Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp said.
“There are people out there trying to instill a sense of hysteria across the United States because it’s to their advantage,” Knapp said Friday. “It’s really important for us to make perfectly clear to the people in Wisconsin that the National Guard has in no way shape or form been tasked or asked to enforce any type of shelter-in-place (order).”
Rumors of a Guard mobilization and even an order to implement martial law spread after Evers issued a series of orders closing schools, bars, restaurants, and other establishments to limit interaction between residents as the virus spreads.
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One message shared through social media last week suggested the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was mobilizing the National Guard — something the department cannot do.
And on Friday, Mark Belling, a Milwaukee-area conservative talk radio show host, told listeners that Evers was issuing a shelter in place order and that the “The Wisconsin National Guard has been deployed and is basing at State Fair Park to enforce the order.”
Also not true.
The Guard has called up 300 soldiers to active duty to help the state’s response to the outbreak of coronavirus and so far, their assistance has been largely in logistics, Knapp said.
Soldiers earlier this month helped about three dozen Wisconsin passengers of a cruise ship get home after the ship’s travelers and staff were quarantined following an outbreak on board the boat.
On Saturday a team of six Wisconsin National Guard medics was deployed to a Grafton senior living facility where a resident died and several other residents and a caregiver also tested positive for coronavirus. The team of four Army and two Air National Guard medics are expected to help staff at Village Point Common for three days.
Knapp said the Guard also is helping the Wisconsin Elections Commission find poll workers for the April 7 election. He the commission needs to find younger poll workers, who are less susceptible to developing serious illness if they contract the coronavirus.
“We don’t want those folks at the polls but the polls need to be manned,” he said. Knapp said one possibility could be turning to people who are unemployed or underemployed due to recent layoffs.
“There really should be no shortage of people able to assist in their local municipality,” he said. He said there are no plans to use National Guard members at the polls.
Knapp said the Guard also helped Milwaukee Public Schools officials find volunteers to distribute food to students and families.
“We really want to be a calming presence when people see us. I want them to be comforted by seeing us,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are up against a lot of propaganda and false narratives.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Meg Jones contributed to this story.
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