Behind the scenes PEMA, Pa. National Guard respond to COVID-19 crisis

    Gov. Tom Wolf briefs journalists on Monday, 3/3/20 on the state's latest efforts to fight COVID-19 (screen capture)

    In an online briefing Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf called the response by Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency and National Guard “critical” to coordinating the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Calling PEMA “quietly effective,” Wolf said, “We know they’re doing their job when we don’t hear much about them.”

    PEMA has been working to address COVID-19 since before the first case of COVID appeared in Pennsylvania, Wolf said. Along with the Department of Health, PEMA has been monitoring the virus since January. 

    “Pennsylvania has a great team working behind the scenes to coordinate our response to the coronavirus,” Wolf said. “I want to reassure all Pennsylvanians that we are in good hands with the teams at PEMA and the National Guard. The training and planning that they do year-round is tested during exercises, and all of that experience is being acted upon now.” 

    PEMA’s Commonwealth Response Coordination Center, which is typically only used during weather emergencies, coordinated mass testing sites across the commonwealth such as those in Luzerne and Montgomery counties. 

    “These sites serve a critical role in testing of symptomatic individuals to get a better understanding of the virus spread, especially in the hardest hit areas of the state,” PEMA Director Randy Padfield said. “This is just one example of the coordination efforts PEMA manages.

    Padfield said some of those sites will remain “warm” in the event of a spike in cases later this fall. 

    Col. Frank Montgomery, Director of Military Support for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, said that the Pennsylvania National Guard has 12,000 service members working throughout the state, coordinating COVID-19 response efforts.

    Montgomery said the National Guard have repatriated Pennsylvanians from cruises at the beginning of the pandemic, distributed food at western Pennsylvania food banks and conducted missions in Philadelphia, including working to support long-term care facilities to decontaminate, assist with testing, transporting patients and training staff on PPE usage. 

    “It’s an honor for us to work side by side with other long-term care staff to serve this vulnerable population,” Montgomery said, “To date, we have provided over 3,500 days of staffing support to 10 long-term care facilities, and are currently still supporting five facilities.”

    The Pennsylvania National Guard has been assisting long term care facilities in Beaver, Dauphin, Chester, Northampton, Pike and other counties across the state. 

    “Bottom line is we work here, we live here, we train here,” Montgomery said. 

    Cassie Miller
    A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.