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State Of Emergency: Maryland National Guard Prepares To Open New Testing Sites As Coronavirus Cases Skyrocket

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- WJZ was given rare access to the training for 1,000 Maryland National Guard members who are on the frontlines in the fight against Covid-19. Guard members are preparing in groups in Dundalk and fitted for special masks to keep them safe at testing sites.

They are also learning how to properly take personal protective equipment on and off, from gowns to gloves.

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren spoke one-on-one with Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead, who is helping lead the efforts.

"It's a huge undertaking—and remember that we're doing this in a covid environment," she said. "We're very conscious that our soliders come from the community, and we are bringing them in off of their full time employment on very short notice as they get prepared, get ready. And next week, they'll be moving out on their mission."

National Guard members will be assisting hospitals where emergency rooms are strained. They have already helped set up testing sites in Anne Arundel and Harford Counties, doing so in just 48 hours, Birckhead told WJZ. They are poised to assist at many of the 20 other new testing sites opening this month.

"We understand it has been a heavy burden testing people coming off holidays and kids going back to school," Brigadier General Birckhead said.

Learning how to administer tests the right way is critical, as these guard members will be doing so thousands of times in the coming weeks.

The guard has been instrumental in Maryland's Covid-19 fight since the early days of the pandemic, and these members of the community are now back in active service as the state deals with record-high infections.

Governor Larry Hogan announced this week the activation of the Maryland National Guard as he declared a 30-day state of emergency. He said the next four to six weeks will be the most challenging of the pandemic.

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