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Nevada National Guard wraps up COVID mission after two years

AP Photo/John Locher, File

FILE - People wait in line for COVID-19 vaccinations at an event at La Bonita market, a Hispanic grocery store on July 7, 2021, in Las Vegas.

In April 2020, Nevada was just coming to terms with the sudden appearance of COVID-19.

More cases of the new illness were popping up daily, and much of the state remained under lockdown.

In those early days of the pandemic, Governor Steve Sisolak activated Nevada’s National Guard to assist with the state’s COVID-19 response.

It was a shift from the guard’s normal duties.

They went from supporting U.S. military efforts around the globe to assisting their communities with testing and vaccination efforts.

And now, as it seems the state finally has a handle on coronavirus, the guard is standing down.

Colonel Brett Compston oversees joint and domestic operations for the Nevada National Guard. They were kept busy during the pandemic.

"Some of the types of things that we did during the event were mass testing locations, setting those up throughout the state, mass vaccination locations. We operated personal protective equipment warehouses and distribution warehouses," he said. "We helped distribute those PPE, we helped with contact tracing, administrative duties in the laboratories, meal delivery, setting up of alternate care sites, tents outside of some of the hospitals, and a number of things along that line."

More than 1,400 of Nevada's citizen soldiers and airmen were called up to assist. How much of a lift is that? 

He said 80% of the Nevada National Guard are what they call "traditional" guardsman, who are normal citizens with regular jobs.

"Unfortunately, due to the shutdowns, we did have a large availability of personnel to assist us," he said. "We had to essentially go from a cold start to a mass operation in just a really rapid amount."

The overall cost was in the tens of millions, Compston said. 

Now, the guard in Nevada is focusing on preparing responses for "the unknown unknowns, the black swans" ahead of time, rather than a reactionary response.

Colonel Brett Compston, director of joint and domestic operations for the Nevada Guard

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.