Gianforte Sends National Guard To Aid In Virus Response

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — National Guard soldiers will assist Montana hospitals with their COVID-19 response as the state struggles with a surge in infections, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Tuesday.

A total of 70 soldiers will assist six different hospitals in Helena, Billings, Butte, Missoula and Bozeman. They will begin helping the hospitals either this weekend or next weekend, according to an announcement from the governor's office. The Guardsmen will support staffing with non-medical intensive care assistance, environmental services, patient data entry and virus testing.

Gianforte has stopped short of issuing any statewide mask or vaccine requirements even as some communities face record high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“While we will not mandate them, vaccines are safe, they work, and they can save your life,” Gianforte said in a statement.

The decision to mobilize the National Guard comes after Gianforte announced last week that 10 Guardsmen would begin assisting Billings Clinic and seven additional Guardsmen would assist in the state lab.

Of the 70 additional guardsmen, 10 will be stationed at St. Peter's Health in Helena; 10 will be stationed in Billings Clinic; six will be stationed in St. James Healthcare in Butte; 10 will be stationed in St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings; 24 will be stationed with Missoula County; and 10 will be stationed with Bozeman Health.

The state anticipates additional requests for Guard resources from several other hospitals, according to the governor's office.

Gianforte also directed Montana Disaster and Emergency Services to assist hospitals in the process of securing full reimbursements from FEMA for their COVID-19 staffing needs, after several hospitals reported last week that they faced staffing shortages that complicated their efforts to respond to the pandemic.

State health officials reported 1,181 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of active cases to just under 10,000. Over 370 people were reported hospitalized with the virus as of Tuesday, and 1,901 Montana residents have died of the virus since the onset of the pandemic.