According to a report in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, defense officials say the cramped quarters the troops were housed in may have played a role in transmission.
One defense official told The Wall Street Journal that this “raised concerns COVID-19 protocols can’t be maintained,” the newspaper reported.
On the day after the inauguration, the National Guard announced that the 26,000 troops deployed to Washington, D.C., didn’t face any security threats.
“There were no security incidents reported involving the National Guard,” a news release from the National Guard Bureau read.
“Our ability to move 26,000 Soldiers and Airmen to DC from every state and territory in less than two weeks would not have been possible without the support of our governors and their adjutants general,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, head of the National Guard.
The National Guard has struggled to implement a plan to test troops flowing into and out of Washington, D.C., for Covid-19, with some Guard members being forced to find their own tests and others pressured to leave their quarantine early to report to duty.
The decision to force thousands of troops into a packed parking garage created a Covid-19 hazard, senators said.
“I think we’ve got to figure out what went wrong because I think there’s going to be a National Guard presence on campus for the foreseeable future,” Murphy added.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Friday morning that a Capitol Police officer “issued an order without authority or without going through the chain of command,” adding: “We are going to be able to identify who that person was.”
Guard members say virus countermeasures were unevenly implemented. On arrival in Washington, D.C., several units were only given temperature checks and asked about any possible Covid-19 exposure, two Guard members told POLITICO. One Washington, D.C., Guard member said he and others were forced to get their own Covid-19 test. Others who were exposed to the virus said they had been told to disregard their quarantine or cut it short and report for duty due to the urgent need for additional troops in the days leading up to the Inauguration.
“We did not get Covid tests on arrival,” said another Guard member. “Right after the holidays they packed us together like sardines in buses and rooms for this.”
Meanwhile, social distancing is “almost impossible” in the halls of Congress, the D.C. armory and the parking garages, one guard member said, troops were packed into tight spaces that made it impossible to socially distance.
“You should have seen late-coming states scavenge for space,” another Guardsman said. “It would have made a great sitcom: people literally making offices out of hallways and any unoccupied space.”