National Guard (copy)

Nebraska National Guard Sgt. Justen Meneses hands out Gatorade to a few dozen people protesting. About 600 Guard members who assisted law enforcement are being tested for exposure to COVID-19. So far, 10 have tested positive and are in isolation.

Ten members of the Nebraska National Guard who aided Omaha and Lincoln police during street protests earlier this month have tested positive for COVID-19, and 134 are in isolation or quarantine, Guard officials reported Friday.

Those under quarantine include all members of a Lincoln-based cavalry squadron who were part of the call-up, because five of the positive tests were from members of that unit.

“We’re in the midst of getting everybody tested,” said Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, the state’s adjutant general. “There’s definitely one cluster from the Lincoln group.”

None of the soldiers who tested positive have become seriously ill, he said.

Bohac said it’s not clear when or how any of the soldiers contracted the virus. But he said it’s likely the Lincoln cases are tied to one another because members of the unit were housed together, sleeping side by side on cots at the National Guard base in Lincoln.

“It’s not the most ideal situation for social distancing,” Bohac said.

The other five positive tests were from soldiers in several different units and are not thought to be connected, he said.

About 600 members of the Nebraska National Guard were called up May 31 to assist police in Omaha and Lincoln after large protests erupted following the death of George Floyd, a black man, while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

Sporadic incidents of property damage or looting subsided after the first few days, and the Guard members were demobilized last weekend. Two soldiers were tested after showing symptoms of COVID-19 last weekend, and both tested positive.

That prompted Bohac to test all Guard members who were part of the initial call-up through the state’s TestNebraska program. Some results haven’t yet been reported.

Bohac said most of the soldiers in isolation (if they tested positive) or quarantine (if they haven’t) for the standard 14-day period have chosen to do so at home. Six others are staying in quarantine rooms reserved for the purpose at one of four colleges and universities in the state.

Two other soldiers who showed symptoms consistent with COVID-19 but who tested negative are also being quarantined.

“Of course, there are other viruses out there,” Bohac said.

The Guard members who assisted the police were given masks and encouraged to wear them when social distancing wasn’t possible. But he conceded that that was difficult to enforce. Photos from the protests show unmasked Guard members and demonstrators talking to one another.

Maj. Scott Ingalsbe, a National Guard spokesman, said it’s considered unlikely that Guard members would have passed the virus to members of the public because their interactions were typically brief. But he encouraged anyone who participated in the demonstrations to get tested through TestNebraska because of the size of the crowds involved.

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