By Maj. Patrick O’Brien Boling, Louisiana National Guard Task Force COVID
CARVILLE, La. – At the direction of Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana National Guard (LANG), in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), continued to support the COVID-19 pandemic response as the Omicron variant of the virus spread throughout the state, Jan. 1.
LANG has supported the response since COVID-19’s first known case, March 2020. More than 900 Soldiers and Airmen of the LANG remain activated in response to COVID-19. Through five waves of the pandemic, the Soldiers and Airmen of Louisiana have developed new skills that have better prepared the LANG for future pandemics.
At the pandemic’s beginning, the LANG activated response teams in all 64 parishes across the state and leveraged relationships with local and state agencies to help stop the spread and mitigate the impact of the coronavirus. Fortunately, the LANG has relationships with partner organizations from years of disaster response exercises and operations.
Although the LANG has a wealth of experience in disaster response, the COVID-19 response presented a unique challenge that differed from typical all-hazard responses. To find best practices, the LANG partnered with experts from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the LDH, and the medical community to help shape the deployment of testing sites across the state. The lessons learned built a basis for all future pandemic responses in Louisiana.
The LANG increased its personnel trained in coronavirus testing and established Task Force COVID August 2020 to focus on the pandemic response. Following the development of coronavirus vaccines, the LDH and the LANG were tasked with distributing the vaccine, Dec. 2020.
The efforts to ensure greater vaccine accessibility to all residents and visitors across Louisiana required a substantial force to administer the vaccine, which included TF COVID. TF COVID, in close coordination with the LDH, fielded vaccination teams in all nine LDH regions across Louisiana.
In an effort to increase accessibility to the vaccine within socially vulnerable communities, the East Baton Rouge (EBR) Mayor’s Office accepted an offer from the White House to augment local pandemic response with Sailors and Marines from the Department of Defense (DOD) under U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM). Under the TF COVID Commander, DOD and LANG forces established the EBR Community Vaccination Center.
Louisiana experienced the fourth wave of COVID in July 2021 as the Delta Variant began to surge across the state. The task force partnered with USNORTHCOM, who supplied Navy and Air Force medical support teams in Aug. 2021 to augment hospitals experiencing medical staff shortages in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Alexandria. Additionally, TF COVID assisted the LDH with the establishment of monoclonal antibody (MAB) infusion sites to help with the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Several natural disaster response and recovery operations, combined with the pandemic response, demonstrated the agility of the LANG throughout the past two years. Hurricanes Laura, Delta, Ida and a severe winter storm caused extensive damage throughout the state as new strains of COVID-19 arose. Through it all, the LANG continued to support the community.
Louisiana approached the start of the third year of the pandemic with rising cases of the Omicron variant. The CDC classifies four phases of a pandemic: initiation, acceleration, deceleration and preparation. In the initiation phase, the LDH and the LANG supported increased testing with more than 604,190 tests administered. The LANG and the DOD provided support to medical facilities during the acceleration and deceleration phases. Finally, during the preparation phase, the LDH and TF COVID administered more than 218,280 vaccines to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Maj. Patrick O’Brien Boling is the Louisiana National Guard strategy officer in the strategy, plans and policy officer and the chief of operations for Task Force COVID.