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Oregon National Guard deployment to help hospitals with COVID-19 surge causes conspiracy-theory revival

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 17, 2021

National Guard troops are providing logistical and other support at 20 hospitals in Oregon during this latest COVID-19 surge of hospitalizations. (Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian)  (Brooke Herbert)
National Guard troops are providing logistical and other support at 20 hospitals in Oregon during this latest COVID-19 surge of hospitalizations. (Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian) (Brooke Herbert)
By Douglas Perry The Oregonian

PORTLAND – Talk of a military takeover is in the air.

“Their agenda Martial law,” one woman wrote on Facebook.

“They might be taking the non-vaccinated to FEMA camps!” came a response.

“Stupidity,” concluded still another social-media denizen. “Create a crisis so you can come in and ‘rescue.’ It’s a sick plan.”

These are comments sparked by a recent news story about Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to send National Guard troops to Oregon’s hospitals. The comments hinted of dark motives, of Big Government run amok and the loss of our constitutional liberties.

No decision these days by any governor, Republican or Democrat, is immune to the slings and arrows of outrageous internet allegations. And it can be hard to tell if the slingers are being serious or just letting off some partisan steam.

But a Craft-Beer Hall Putsch?

Brown’s decision to deploy hundreds of National Guard soldiers to 20 Oregon hospitals during this latest COVID-19 surge is unusual, leading to national – and even international – coverage of the move.

The reason for the decision has nothing to do with a Beaver State coup d’état, needless to say. Some Oregon hospitals, already short-staffed, risk being overwhelmed by the flood of new cases as the coronavirus pandemic grinds on. Alarmingly, more than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, children are being hospitalized for COVID-19 at a record rate across the country.

Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccines, which have received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, have proven highly successful at preventing severe illness and hospitalization.

The objective of the National Guard deployment, Brown announced Friday in a statement, is for troops “to support frontline health care workers as Oregon hospitals face a surge of hospitalizations due to the rapid spread of the delta variant.”

National Guard troops will provide “logistical support as materials handlers and equipment runners, as well as assisting with COVID-19 testing and other necessary services to support hospital operations.”

St. Charles Health Systems, which operates four hospitals in Central Oregon, welcomed the governor’s order.

“The stress on Oregon hospitals right now is truly unprecedented,” St. Charles Health CEO Joe Sluka said in a statement. “Our resources are stretched woefully thin at the same time we are seeing a frightening rise in COVID cases.”

About 96% of all positive coronavirus tests in the state are the delta variant, Military.com noted. Just over a month ago, the highly transmissible version of the virus made up only 15% of positive cases in Oregon.

“I cannot emphasize enough the seriousness of this crisis for all Oregonians, especially those needing emergency and intensive care,” Gov. Brown said last week. “When our hospitals are full with COVID-19 patients, there may not be room for someone needing care after a car crash, a heart attack, or other emergency situation.

“I know this is not the summer many of us envisioned with over 2.5 million Oregonians vaccinated against COVID-19. The harsh and frustrating reality is that the delta variant has changed everything.”

Brown said she’s in touch with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for additional assistance and funding. This statement might have helped revive the debunked FEMA concentration camps conspiracy theory, which has been taken up over the past year by the anti-government militia Oath Keepers, among others.

Gov. Brown last week also re-instituted an indoor mask mandate, further fueling fears and suspicions among the conspiracy-minded. Opposition to wearing masks has been a preoccupation of a relatively small but very vocal minority in Oregon and the rest of the country.

This isn’t the first time Brown has tapped the National Guard during the pandemic. In the early weeks of the COVID-19 vaccines rollout, when demand for the arm jabs was high, Guard members made sure that large vaccination sites – such as at the Oregon Convention Center and Portland International Airport – ran efficiently, moving hundreds of Oregonians through the process every day.

The mass vaccination sites shuttered in June when demand for the vaccines fell.

Nearly 3,000 Oregonians and more than 600,000 people across the country have died from COVID-19.

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