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Pentagon Considers Civilian Use of Military Hospitals and Other Aid during COVID-19 Crisis

March 16, 2020 (EIRNS)—At today’s Pentagon briefing on COVID-19 preparedness, given by Joint Staff Surgeon, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs (USAF) and Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman, they were asked about the military providing hospital beds for civilian use in the emergency. The briefers’ reply: We will do our part in the “all of government” response. They said that the Department of Health and Human Services is the lead agency in charge of activating requests to the Defense Department, and “we can offer what we can do.”

Friedrichs said that, so far, “We have not seen huge demand signals” requesting assistance, but the military is willing. He said that portable tent packages can be moved quickly by plane. Other, larger materials are slower to move. Hoffman said, the Defense Department has ready “the numbers of tent and field hospitals” it can offer. But, “We don’t have an estimate on pouring foundations or concrete”—that is, on actually building hospitals.

The role of military hospital ships was discussed, with reference to how the USS Comfort has been used in the Caribbean in recent months to help after the hurricane disasters.

“We’ve done it before,” the briefer said, clarifying that there are special categories of medical use, such as emergency room and trauma care. But, shipside conditions in which patients are four-deep on litters, are not appropriate for all varieties of care. Further, “Hospital ships are relevant along the coasts.” It won’t help “in St. Louis.” An additional point is that the ships are run by a complement by merchant mariners. They do not have the 1,200 or so medical professionals needed to staff them. These have to be mustered. The military typically partners with a civilian agency to provide the medical staff for specific deployments.

Otherwise, the military may provide help in other ways, there is authorization under “Title 32” of relevant law. The National Guard is doing this now, under “Title 10.” They typically might provide law enforcement, cleaning, transportation, or other support functions, “a lot of things.” March 16, some 1,000 National Guards were deployed in Maryland; such deployments are happening in many states now.

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