'2 new missions:' National Guard manages COVID-19 self-isolation facilities, prepares to help with election

MILWAUKEE -- Officials with the Wisconsin National Guard on Wednesday, April 1 outlined two new missions as part of the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. National Guard soldiers previously transported cruise ship guests to their homes, augmented staff at a Grafton long-term care facility facing a COVID-19 outbreak and trained for COVID-19 testing missions.

On Wednesday, it was announced that citizen soldiers and airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard will serve as polling site workers at polling locations across Wisconsin on April 7.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin National Guard officials announced in a news release administrative and medic personnel are helping to staff three separate voluntary self-isolation facilities in Milwaukee and Madison.

Self-isolation facilities

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is managing two of the self-isolation facilities, while a third is being run by the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. There are 12 troops assigned at each of the two state-run self-isolation facilities working in shifts to augment staff there, while nearly 30 Wisconsin National Guard personnel are helping staff a Milwaukee-run facility. Those teams are providing administrative support and medical monitoring at each site for individuals who would otherwise be unable to effectively self-isolate, the release said.

April 7 election

The Wisconsin National Guard also received a request for assistance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission to provide personnel to staff polling sites at locations around the state for the upcoming April 7 election.

Wednesday's release noted the Wisconsin National Guard continues to work with state elections officials to determine how many citizen soldiers and airmen will be needed to staff the polls and where they will be needed. The Guard members will serve in civilian clothes and not be in uniform at the polls, and they will be there to augment existing volunteers, poll workers and local elections officials, who will continue administering their own polling locations. They will fulfill the same duties as traditional poll workers.

Guard members called to state active duty to staff polling places will receive the same training and have the same expectations as other poll workers, officials said. In accordance with state law, all Guard members serving at a polling station will be residents of that county, the release said.

“We are citizen soldiers and airmen who live and work in these same communities,” Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general said in the release. “We are neighbors helping neighbors, and our soldiers and airmen span every community in Wisconsin. Clerks and elections officials are having a hard time finding volunteers to work at the polls so our democratic process can play out, and we’re honored to assist and help ease some of the staffing needs.”

Knapp also urged Wisconsin residents to vote absentee in the April 7 election. Absentee ballots can be requested until 5 p.m. Thursday, April 2 at MyVote.wi.gov or in writing, email or fax through a voter’s municipal clerk’s office. He also urged other able members of the community to volunteer to staff polling sites.

The release noted the Wisconsin National Guard is simultaneously working closely with the Wisconsin Elections Commission to assist with logistics considerations to ensure the election can be held in a safe and sanitary manner by procuring and distributing hand sanitizer, wipes, spray bottles and other necessary supplies to polling sites.

National Guard medics at Village Pointe Commons

Village Pointe Commons in Grafton

A team of six Wisconsin National Guard medics also augmented the staff at a senior living facility in Grafton for three days in March while the facility dealt with a staffing shortfall after a COVID-19 outbreak there.

Princess cruise ship

Also in March, a team of 30 Wisconsin National Guard personnel assisted the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) transport a group of Wisconsin citizens back to their homes after they returned to our state from a cruise ship that had confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard.

The Guard continues to support other missions around Wisconsin as well, including an ongoing mission supporting DHS and conducting warehouse operations, where they’ve helped move critical personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as receive and repackage PPE for distribution to sites around the state, the release said.

Passengers look out from aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, operated by Princess Cruises, as it maintains a holding pattern about 25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, California on March 8, 2020. - California prepared to disembark passengers

Approximately 350 soldiers and airmen are serving on state active duty in response to a public health emergency declaration from Gov. Tony Evers March 12.