Massachusetts: Governor Baker Activates National Guard to Support School Testing & Contingency Planning at DOC

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BOSTON — Today, Governor Charlie Baker issued orders activating up to 450 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to help support two missions. The Governor's orders activate up to 200 members of the Guard to support COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools throughout the Commonwealth and up to 250 members to offset potential staffing shortages at the Department of Correction (DOC).

"We are grateful that the National Guard has stepped up once again, as they have throughout the COVID-19 response, to serve the Commonwealth where needed," saidGovernor Charlie Baker. "Today's activations will ensure that we have additional staffing support for our school testing programs to help kids stay safe and will allow DOC to respond to possible staffing shortages. While we are overall pleased with the progress we are seeing with Commonwealth employees submitting vaccination attestations, we will take whatever steps are necessary to safely run all correctional facilities."

"The Guard has a long history of supporting our communities in times of need, and have answered the call time and time again during the pandemic," said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. "We thank the servicemembers on these missions who will provide critical support to these two areas."

School Testing Mission

The Commonwealth has developed a nation-leading COVID-19 testing program to help K-12 students remain in school safely. Over 2,200 schools have currently signed up to participate in at least one of three types of testing: test and stay, symptomatic testing, and pooled testing. Since the beginning of the school year, results from pooled testing show pool positivity rates of less than 1 percent, and test and stay, which is used to test close contacts, has saved approximately 25,000 school days for students who would have otherwise had to quarantine.

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As these testing programs continue to ramp up, up to 200 members of the National Guard will be activated to expand testing support at schools across the Commonwealth. The Guard members will begin training this week and begin administering COVID-19 testing in selected schools on Monday, October 18.

"We are very thankful to the men and women of the National Guard for their assistance to help school districts handle some operational challenges in order to continue to keep students, teachers and staff safe," said Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley. "The National Guard was there when we needed them to drive some children to school due to a nationwide bus driver shortage, and now we are thankful they are once again willing to serve the children of the Commonwealth with COVID-19 testing."

To read the order, click here.

Department of Correction Contingency Planning

Governor Baker will also activate up to 250 Massachusetts National Guard personnel as a contingency measure in anticipation of possible staffing shortages at DOC. This week Guard personnel will begin training to assist the DOC, if necessary, with transportation and exterior security functions.

In close coordination with public safety officials, the DOC continues preparations for the possibility of a reduction in DOC staffing levels due to non-compliance with Executive Order 595, which requires all Executive Department employees to demonstrate proof of vaccination against COVID-19 by October 17. Activating the Guard in advance of the deadline allows for Guard personnel to immediately begin job-specific training and assume roles, if needed, in the event of a reduction in DOC staffing levels.

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The availability of support from the National Guard will safeguard DOC operational continuity and continued access to services and programming for inmates. The DOC is further prepared to augment correction staff with the return of retired correction officers in addition to Guard personnel.

"DOC staff has performed remarkably throughout the pandemic. As we continue to navigate an unprecedented public health crisis, well-being and safety remain our priority, and we appreciate the large number of staff who have submitted their vaccination attestation forms ahead of the deadline," said DOC Commissioner Carol Mici. "We are grateful for the Guard's assistance in supporting the DOC's mission as we continue to encourage our staff to comply with the vaccination mandate."

Under this contingency plan, Guard personnel will assume external functions which do not involve direct contact with inmates.  When Guard personnel assist with providing transportation to inmates, a correctional officer will accompany them.

These missions will not interfere with the Massachusetts National Guard's ability to respond to and assist in emergencies within the Commonwealth.

The Massachusetts National Guard trains regularly with law enforcement, civilian, and other military agencies to provide a broad spectrum of services in support of security, logistics, disaster relief, and other missions. The Guard has a proven track record of success supporting civilian authorities. Their frequent side-by-side training with state and local first responders makes them well-suited for a variety of missions.

To read the order, click here.

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