National Guard urges U.S. to follow health measures as military races to vaccinate population

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nathan Korta, medical technician with Joint Task Force Steelhead’s mobile vaccination team, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to an Orcas Island resident, March 2, 2021, Orcas Island, Washington.
Senior Airman Mckenzie Airhart | U.S. Air National Guard

WASHINGTON — National Guard leaders on Thursday called for people in the U.S. keep adhering to Covid-19 mitigation measures as the military races to vaccinate the population.

“We’re excited to follow the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] science that tells us what the smart thing is to continue to protect the civilians around us,” U.S. Air Force Col. Russell Kohl, commander of the 131st Medical Group for the Missouri National Guard, told CNBC when asked if there were concerns of more states relaxing guidance.

“You’ll still see us social distancing, you’ll still see us in masks and you’ll see us trying to encourage as many folks as possible to get the vaccine because I think it really is a multi-step process for us to get through this pandemic and get back to any sort of normalcy, to the extent that there will be such a thing as normalcy as opposed to a new normal,” Kohl added.

Kohl’s comments came after California — the nation’s most populous state — announced this week it would lift most Covid-related restrictions by June 15. Last month, a slew of states also relaxed restrictions to varying degrees.

“We are the instruments of national power, not the deciders of it, and what the elected leaders do at the national and local and state levels is their decision,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Adam Flasch, director of joint staff for the Maryland National Guard and dual-status commander for Title 10 active duty troops.

“But there’s good solid science behind masks and social distancing and handwashing as a means to deny the virus or vector until we can get vaccinated,” Flasch added.

The National Guard has mobilized 2,250 vaccinators at more than 1,000 sites working to administer the coronavirus vaccines to Americans. The service said earlier this week it hit a milestone by administering 6 million shots to the public.

Federal health officials have recently warned the U.S. is still in a battle with the coronavirus, even as vaccine production ramps up and record-breaking vaccine doses are administered.

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci cautioned Monday that Americans should still follow public health measures as warmer summer months approach.

“You might remember a little bit more than a year ago when we were looking for the summer to rescue us from surges. It was, in fact, the opposite,” Fauci said at a coronavirus briefing.

“We saw some substantial surges in the summer. I don’t think we should even think about relying on the weather to bail us out of anything we’re in right now,” he added.

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