Baker calls up Guard to help at prisons, schools
Addresses worker shortages at DOC, COVID testing program
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Tuesday called up 450 members of the National Guard to fill in for state correctional workers who have refused to get vaccinated and to support a COVID-19 testing program at schools that has had difficulty meeting demand.
The governor said 250 Guard members as well as retired correction officers will be used to deal with potential staff shortages at the Department of Correction. He did not say how many replacement employees will be needed overall at the Department of Correction, or whether other state agencies will also be facing staff shortages.
“While we are overall pleased with the progress we are seeing with Commonwealth employees submitting vaccination attestations, we will take whatever steps are necessary to safely run all correctional facilities,” Baker said in a statement.
Under the governor’s vaccine mandate, all employees in the executive branch of state government are required to provide proof of vaccination by October 17. Baker said he activated the 250 Guard members now to allow them to get the necessary training they will need to provide what a press statement described as “external functions which do not involve direct contact with inmates. When Guard personnel assist with providing transportation to inmates, a correctional officer will accompany them.”
“Unless we win a long shot case in court, the state is resigned itself to fire you,” Scafidi wrote. He said all religious exemptions, even those previously granted, would be scrutinized by a new review board and he warned of coming unit consolidations, modified lockdowns, cancellations of time off, and recruitment of National Guard and correction officer retirees as replacement workers.
Scaffidi also pledged to litigate the actions being taken by the Baker administration.
Another 200 Guard members will be used to support COVID-19 testing programs in K-12 schools. They will begin training this week and start providing support next Monday.
The state offers schools access to three types of testing: rapid testing for symptomatic individuals; rapid tests for students who have been exposed to someone with COVID but want to stay in school; and routine pooled testing.
According to state education officials, more than 2,200 schools are participating in some kind of testing – double the amount that participated last year. Pooled testing is provided by CIC Health, a private organization which has a state contract to provide the testing.In a recent letter to Baker, state Rep. Mindy Domb, an Amherst Democrat, complained that schools in her district had not received any testing services even though they applied in August. Domb urged the governor to call out the National Guard to deal with the problem, just as he did recently to help alleviate a shortage of school bus drivers.
“Testing has been promoted to our districts as essential to maintain safe in-person learning,” Domb told CommonWealth in a statement. “It’s confusing why the administration is not acting with more urgency to ensure that this service is present.”