RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The North Carolina National Guard is preparing to have more troops help with COVID-19 vaccine distribution while simultaneously getting ready to assist law enforcement in Washington and Raleigh, as federal officials warn of potential armed protests in the days ahead.
“Clearly the events of last week have made this inauguration a little more high-visibility. And, our men and women are going to go up there and do a great job,” said Maj. Matthew Boyle.
Gov. Roy Cooper mobilized about 550 National Guard personnel on Wednesday. Approximately 350 will help in Raleigh while the rest will go to Washington to assist with the inaugural events.
Boyle said the soldiers and airmen remaining in North Carolina are able to help throughout the state if that becomes necessary.
An FBI bulletin earlier this week warned of armed protests in all 50 state capitols as well as Washington in the days ahead. Following the attack at the U.S. Capitol, Cooper said dozens of states are sending personnel to the nation’s capital.
“This decision to mobilize guardsmen has been based on the possibility of a large-scale protest in Washington, D.C. And, so it’s a precautionary measure,” said Boyle.
Boyle said the National Guard will not serve as front-line law enforcement. In Raleigh, they’ll assist police with various things such as traffic control and other logistical issues that may arise.
“That helps free up law enforcement to be able to do whatever they need to do,” he said.
He added that the decision to mobilize for the inauguration will not affect the work the National Guard is doing to assist with COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
“That team is completely separate from this response to assist local law enforcement. So, it’s not going to have any impact at all. The Guard is here. Our nation has called for us to help, and we’re not going to let them down,” he said.
There are currently four, six-person teams assisting with vaccinations in Forsyth County and with Albemarle Regional Health Services in Elizabeth City.
State Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said Thursday that more than 250 National Guard personnel could be sent across the state by the end of next week.
Cooper mobilized the National Guard for that purpose amid a slower-than-expected rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
As of Thursday, 268,212 people had received their first dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC. More than 969,000 doses have been distributed to the state, the agency reported.
About 27.6 percent of doses distributed have been administered to people in North Carolina, compared to about 36.4 percent nationally.
Cooper said Thursday the prioritization list is changing once again following new recommendations from the federal government. The state will open up vaccinations to anyone 65 and older as well as all health care workers.
“Encourage your health departments to use all the supply that has been allotted to them,” Cooper said. “And, we’ve continued to ask health departments and hospitals to ask us for the help.”