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Head Of National Guard Says Tens Of Thousands Could Be Called Up

National Guard personnel march in formation Thursday at a state-managed coronavirus drive-through testing site that just opened on Staten Island in New York.
National Guard personnel march in formation Thursday at a state-managed coronavirus drive-through testing site that just opened on Staten Island in New York.

Tens of thousands of guardsmen could be called up to help state efforts to combat the coronavirus in the coming weeks and months, the head of the National Guard Bureau said.

"This could quickly blossom," Gen. Joseph Lengyel told Pentagon reporters Thursday.

At the moment, just over 2,000 members of the National Guard are assisting governors in 27 states, doing things such as helping with testing and transportation. Lengyel said that number could double by this weekend.

There are some 450,000 Guardsmen in the Air Guard and National Guard.

Lengyel said he doesn't see the need to federalize the guard, meaning it would come under control of the president. He said it's more efficient to leave it under state control.

On Thursday, President Trump appeared to agree. At a meeting with a group of governors, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia told Trump to "leave the directives for the National Guard with the governors."

"That's done. I like it," Trump responded.

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Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.