Washington – Between 150 and 200 National Guard deployed to Washington to provide security for President Joe Biden’s inauguration have tested positive for the coronavirus, a U.S. official said Friday.
The U.S. government imposed unprecedented security measures in the city following the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, including fences topped with razor wire and checkpoints manned by National Guard.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the number of National Guard troops who tested positive could rise but was still a small fraction of the more than 25,000 troops deployed in city over the past few days.
The United States reported more than 4,000 daily deaths from COVID-19 for a second consecutive day on Thursday, according to a Reuters analysis of public health data, bringing the cumulative number of U.S. lives lost to almost 410,000.
The National Guard said in a statement that it would not discuss coronavirus cases, but personnel were following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including temperature checks when they left their home state and arrived in the city, along with a screening questionnaire.
The military has said arrangements are being made for thousands of troops to return home, and that about 15,000 are expected to leave Washington within the next five to 10 days.
Some 7,000 National Guard personnel are expected to stay at least through the end of the month, officials have said.
About 5,000 troops are expected to stay through mid-March, but that number and time period could change.
The news came after a decision to turn a chilly underground parking garage into an overnight billet for the National Guard troops in Washington has stirred an uproar.
A number of the 25,000 troops standing guard around the U.S. Capitol had been allowed to take breaks and naps in between long shifts on the floors of the building housing the U.S. Congress.
But on Thursday afternoon, after the legislature resumed work a day after the Biden inauguration, someone decided instead to force them out to a nearby parking garage.
Photos that spread quickly over the internet showed troops stretched out under fluorescent lights in parking slots, with few toilets, outlets for charging phones or other facilities.
Some members of Congress, noting that many of the troops came from their home states, voiced outrage.
“This is an insult to all National Guard units that followed orders and served in the cold and rain through the night without fail. They protected our Capitol when we needed them most,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle on Twitter.
Lawmakers visited the troops and apologized early Friday.
“What happened was an outrage and it will never happen again,” said Chuck Schumer, the new Senate Majority leader, as he walked in a hall in the Capitol with dozens of soldiers sleeping on both sides.
Schumer said nobody knew exactly who ordered the part-time soldiers moved to the garage.
In the afternoon, first lady Jill Biden also paid a surprise visit to a group of military personnel on duty in Congress, offering them chocolate chip cookies and posing for photos.
“The National Guard will always hold a special place in the hearts of all the Bidens,” she said. President Biden’s late son, Beau, was a member of the Delaware National Guard.
Echoing the recriminations over responsibility for letting hundreds of violent supporters of then-president Donald Trump crash the Capitol on Jan. 6, National Guard officials said Capitol Police told them to move to the garage, and the Capitol Police denied it.
They “did not instruct the National Guard to vacate Capitol building facilities,” Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said in a statement.
“As of this morning, all Guardsmen and women have been relocated to space within the Capitol complex.”
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