Nearly 200 members of the National Guard deployed to the Capitol ahead of the inauguration tested positive for coronavirus, the Wall Street Journal reports.
After 6 January’s pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol, approximately 26,000 Guard troops from all 50 states were sent to secure Washington ahead of the inauguration, and officials worry their close working and living quarters contributed to the spread of the disease.
Defense officials told The Journal that each of the Guardsmen were screened for Covid exposure before being deployed to the Capitol, but not all were tested. A detachment of 7,000 or so National Guard soldiers will stay in DC until the end of the month as the new administration gets going.
The riots exposed a shaky security response at the Capitol, and the Guard has been in the spotlight ever since. The former chief of the US Capitol Police, who resigned following the mob, told the Washington Post he’d requested National Guard assistance numerous times ahead of the riot but was ignored, contradicting claims from officials who said the Guard hadn’t been requested.
Following the attack, the large troop presence continued to create controversy. Federal security officials removed 12 Guardsmen from the force in the Capitol for alleged ties to militia groups and extremist views ahead of the inauguration.
Once they were in Washington, photos of large groups of Guard personnel working and resting in close quarters, including in a chilly car park, sparked outrage from lawmakers and conflicting explanations from the Guard and the Capitol police.
“This is outrageous, shameful, and incredibly disrespectful to the men and women keeping the US Capitol safe and secure,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema said. “We need it fixed and we need answers on how it happened.”
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other lawmakers offered up their offices as a place to sleep or snack.
The backlash led the Guard to move their rest area back inside the Capitol, and the force offered a clashing explanation with Capitol police over who had initially ordered the troops to rest outside.
The Guardsmen aren’t the only ones who might be part of a superspreader event surrounding the riots. Many of the insurrectionists themselves weren’t wearing masks and were in close proximity, and the attack forced lawmakers to shelter together in tight quarters until the riot was over, with at least three lawmakers testing positive afterwards.