Idaho National Guard to aid COVID-hit prisons, clinics

Mark Frerichs


BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho National Guard is being deployed to help doctors’ offices and the state prison system amid overwhelming staffing shortages caused by coronavirus.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little made the announcement Monday, saying 75 Idaho National Guardsmen will assist Primary Health Group and the Idaho Department of Correction. Another 503 staffers will be sent to Idaho hospitals under a state contract.

It’s the fourth time the Guard has been deployed by Little since the start of the pandemic.

“I am proud of our men and women of the Idaho National Guard who have stepped up time and again to help our state and communities get through an unprecedented, challenging time,” Little said in a prepared statement. “The strain on healthcare, schools, business, and government from the spread of COVID-19 is a reminder that we are not out of the pandemic, and we need to be vigilant about keeping ourselves and our loved ones healthy.”

At least 48 states and 3 territories have used National Guard members to fill critical gaps, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The troops have driven school buses, staffed hospital kitchens, helped to care for nursing home residents, triaged emergency room patients and held coronavirus vaccine clinics.

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On Jan. 24, 201 Idaho Department of Correction staffers were unable to come to work because they recently tested positive for COVID-19 or were in close contact with a person who tested positive — the highest number of coronavirus-related absences since the pandemic began, according to the department.

The National Guardsmen will help at the complex of state prisons south of Boise by patrolling the prison perimeters, staffing the front entrances, administering COVID-19 tests, counting inmates and handling other duties, the IDOC said.

IDOC Director Josh Tewalt said the department was grateful to have the Guard’s help during what he called “this challenging time.”

At Primary Health Group, the state’s largest independent family medicine and urgent care provider, National Guard soldiers will help clinics quickly provide COVID-19 tests to more patients, said CEO Dr. David Peterman. The help will also allow Primary Health Group to keep more of its 21 clinics open with normal operating hours despite staffing shortages, he said.

“I commend the governor in understanding how important primary care is to testing and evaluating for COVID,” Peterman said.

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown has sent about 1,200 National Guard members to help at more than 50 hospitals she says are under extreme pressure due to an omicron-fueled surge in hospitalizations. And in Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee recently deployed 100 members of the National Guard to hospitals across the state to set up testing sites and to assist in non-medical tasks.

Businesses and organizations across Idaho have been hit hard by staffing shortages as the highly contagious omicron variant continues to spread in an already tight labor market. Schools and child care programs in many areas have had intermittent closures, and some businesses have shortened hours.

One in every 89 people in Idaho tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. Only about 52 percent of the Idaho population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.