The Illinois National Guard is assisting the state's COVID-19 response by setting up testing centers and other civil action, not preparing for military action as has been rumored on social media, its adjutant general said during a news briefing Monday.
Brig. Gen. Richard Neely told Illinoisans at Gov. J.B. Pritzker's daily coronavirus news conference, "We're not doing any policing action."
Pritzker's disaster proclamation on March 9 authorized Army and Air National Guard soldiers to help with the state's response to COVID-19. Since then, soldiers have been providing civil, medical and logistical assistance, including engineering and HVAC duties.
Neely said the Guard has begun setting up testing centers and some members have even tested health care workers and first responders for COVID-19 in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, with greater public testing upcoming.
He said other soldiers are helping distribution of medical equipment, while a "specialized engineering team" is surveying closed-down hospital sites.
"They're actually looking at the heating, the plumbing, the electrical throughout those facilities and identifying which ones are easy to quickly turn on if we need that additional capacity," Neely said.
The Illinois National Guard has also been active on its Twitter account (@IL_Natl_Guard), replying directly to conspiracies and fears regarding the Guard's resence.
The Twitter account has refuted rumors that soldiers are shutting down highways, setting up driver checkpoints or preparing to enforce a national quarantine.
"Disinformation can tear us apart. We are part of the community, we live and work alongside you every day," read part of a tweet thread on Friday. "When you see something you question, or that doesn't seem 'normal,' ask us, we're here to make sure you're informed."
Each U.S. state, the District of Columbia and the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands has its own National Guard. It is the only American military force that can function in a non-military way.
Illinois' Guard, for example, was recently activated to help with flooding preparation and recovery along the Mississippi River, including near Chester.
The Guard's functions range from non-emergency situations to enforcement of martial law when state and local law enforcement can no longer keep the peace. But even though soldiers are dressed in military uniforms, Neely said, that does not mean they are performing military duties.
"When we show up in camouflage, we tend to draw a crowd, but we're not bringing weapons. We're not bringing anything like that. We're bringing our professional skills to help out," he said.