Baker activates National Guard to assist with COVID testing in schools, possible prison staffing shortages

Massachusetts

BOSTON (WPRI) — Gov. Charlie Baker has activated the Massachusetts National Guard to assist with COVID-19 testing in schools and alleviate potential staffing shortages at the state’s Department of Correction.

Baker has requested up to 450 National Guard members to support both missions, 200 of which would help with testing while the other 250 would offset the DOC staffing shortages.

“We are grateful that the National Guard has stepped up once again, as they have throughout the COVID-19 response, to serve the Commonwealth where needed,” Baker said.

Baker said the National Guard “will ensure that we have additional staffing support for our school testing programs to help kids stay safe and will allow DOC to respond to possible staffing shortages.”

“While we are overall pleased with the progress we are seeing with Commonwealth employees submitting vaccination attestations, we will take whatever steps are necessary to safely run all correctional facilities,” he said.

Baker said more than 2,200 schools have signed up to participate in at least one of three types of testing: test and stay, symptomatic testing and pooled testing.

National Guard members assisting with testing will begin training this week. Baker said they’re expected to start working at selected schools on Oct. 18.

“We are very thankful to the men and women of the National Guard for their assistance to help school districts handle some operational challenges in order to continue to keep students, teachers and staff safe,” Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said. “The National Guard was there when we needed them to drive some children to school due to a nationwide bus driver shortage, and now we are thankful they are once again willing to serve the children of the Commonwealth with COVID-19 testing.”

As for the National Guard members being deployed to help with DOC staffing shortages, Baker said they’ll be trained as a contingency measure to assist with transportation and exterior security functions.

The DOC is preparing for possible staffing shortages linked to the vaccine mandate for state employees. By activating the National Guard ahead of the Oct. 17 deadline, members can begin job-specific training so they can immediately step in if necessary.

“As we continue to navigate an unprecedented public health crisis, well-being and safety remain our priority, and we appreciate the large number of staff who have submitted their vaccination attestation forms ahead of the deadline,” DOC Commissioner Carol Mici said. “We are grateful for the National Guard’s assistance in supporting the DOC’s mission as we continue to encourage our staff to comply with the vaccination mandate.”

The contingency plan states that National Guard personnel will take over tasks that do not involve direct contact with inmates, and members who are asked to provide inmate transportation will always be accompanied by a correctional officer.

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