CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — We’re getting a better indication of just how severe COVID-19 is affecting West Virginia hospitals. The situation is so dire, the National Guard is being called in to help.

Beginning Friday, 150 members of the West Virginia National Guard will participate in medical training exercises which are conducted annually at Camp Dawson in Preston County. In some cases, there will be combat medics who are getting their training re-certified, so they can help staff hospitals across the state that have critical employee shortages due to COVID-19.

While their primary mission is to assist in medical care, they will be doing just about everything.

“We just may just step in and be the folks to just move patients to go get testing or move them to go get some kind of procedure or something done. And also the meals, bringing those. So we try to relieve some of that burden,” said Brig. Gen. William Crane, Adjutant General, West Virginia National Guard.

“We’re anticipating the continued uptick in COVID hospitalizations. I mean we’re over 740 patients today. And just the hospital staffs are exhausted, so I think we’re really looking at how we use those guard members within the hospitals,” said Jim Kaufman, President and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association.

Twenty percent of all tests in West Virginia are now coming back positive, so that is ramping up the urgency to help hospitals. The initial 150 guard soldiers and airmen could be working at short-staffed hospitals by next week. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and National Guard leadership is hoping to have as many as 600 medics and support staff trained in the coming weeks.