Whitman County, WSU to request for national guard to stay in town

University, county began working on request after Dec. 4; unknown if it will be approved

The+Federal+Emergency+Management+Agency+pays+for+personnel+costs+associated+with+the+guard%2C+including+salaries%2C+housing+and+food.+WSU+covers+the+cost+of+processing+tests%2C+which+is+worth+about+%24100+each.

ROBERT HUBNER | WSU PHOTO SERVICES

The Federal Emergency Management Agency pays for personnel costs associated with the guard, including salaries, housing and food. WSU covers the cost of processing tests, which is worth about $100 each.

ABBY DAVIS, Evergreen reporter

WSU is working with the Whitman County Public Health Department to file a request for the Army National Guard to remain in Pullman after the semester ends.

The request will be submitted to the Washington State Emergency Operations Center, said Phil Weiler, WSU vice president for marketing and communications.

“We’re also going to be contacting the governor’s office to see if we can make sure that his office is aware of our request,” Weiler said.

WSU and Whitman County Public Health began working on the request after Dec. 4, when federal funding for the guard was extended, Weiler said.

Weiler said he is not sure the request will be approved once it is submitted. If it’s approved, Weiler said he does not know how long the guard would remain in the area.

“It’s going to depend upon where the need in the state exists, and if we can make a compelling case that Whitman County has a high need,” he said.

WSU and the public health department want to keep the guard in Pullman, and make testing available to community members, he said. 

The guard began testing Sept. 7. As of Dec. 7, they conducted more than 4,600 tests on students, faculty members and staff, Weiler said.

“They’ve been a terrific partner and really significantly increased our [testing] capacity,” he said.

Weiler said Whitman County is one of only two counties in the state that does not have highly accessible, low-cost or no-cost testing.

“Right now if someone in the community needs to get a test, they typically have to go to their health care provider, and frankly, it’s an expensive cost,” he said. “In some situations, members of the public can be paying around $250 to get a test.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency pays for personnel costs associated with the guard, including salaries, housing and food. WSU covers the cost of processing tests, which costs about $100 each, he said. 

“We can’t expect that members of the community are going to write a check for $100 every time they want to get a test,” he said. 

The university is working with the public health department to see if federal CARES Act dollars could help cover the cost of running community tests, Weiler said.

“We all recognize there’s a need to provide screening testing in Whitman County,” he said, “and this may be an option to be able to do that.”

The request is still in the preliminary stage, he said.

“This whole thing could fall apart quite frankly, because … we don’t have a good sense yet of how much CARES money is available,” he said.