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Nevada Guard emphasizes activation is not `martial law’

  • Hotel room lights spell out “Vegas Strong” at the Wynn hotel-casino along the Las Vegas Strip as casinos and other business are shuttered due to the coronavirus outbreak Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

RENO, Nev. — State and federal officials are finalizing details of the role Nevada’s National Guard will play in the statewide response to the coronavirus, but they’re emphasizing the mission won’t include enforcing martial law.

Gen. Mike Hanifan took to social media to dispel a rumor that Gov. Steve Sisolak’s activation of the Guard this week means he’s invoking martial law.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Martial law is defined as law administered by military force. The governor has not handed over law enforcement duties or powers to the Nevada National Guard.”

Sisolak activated the Guard on Wednesday primarily for logistical planning and delivery of medical supplies as health officials prepared for an expected spike in patients with the respiratory illness.

It’s mission also likely will include such things as providing security at testing sites, managing food banks and disinfecting public spaces. Guardsmen also could assist in medical screening, help provide security of federal property and run traffic control points if necessary, Hanifan said.

“This is probably the biggest crisis of our time we’ll be facing as national guardsmen and airmen,” he said.

At least 43 people have died and more than 1,500 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Nevada.

Sisolak said one of the Guard’s first jobs may be helping deliver some of the more than 2 million protective masks that Las Vegas casino resorts have donated to the state.

Officials said formal activation would begin Friday for about 100 soldiers and airmen. Some should be working in local communities by Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry, Nevada’s adjutant general, said more could be added. The National Guard includes about 3,100 soldiers and 1,200 airmen.

The troops will be placed on active state duty under the direction of the governor, but will be paid from federal funds.

The governor has activated the National Guard each New Year’s Eve since the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help patrol the Las Vegas Strip.

Nevada’s Guard regularly is deployed overseas, but the most recent non-New Year’s activation within the state was March 2017 when 140 troops responded to flooding north of Reno and President Trump approved federal disaster funding, similar to what’s expected to occur now, said 1st Lt. Emerson Marcus, the Nevada Guard’s historian.

The Guard even was activated in the winter of 1948-49 to deliver hay to livestock stranded in a blizzard, a rescue effort chronicled in the 1950 motion picture “Operation Haylift,” Marcus said. To his knowledge, this is the first activation specifically to respond to a virus breakout.

Most people with the virus experience mild or moderate fever and coughing for two to three weeks. Some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can face severe illness including pneumonia and death.

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