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DOD ramps up COVID-19 response efforts from coast to coast

By WASHINGTON | Defense.gov | April 11, 2020

C. Todd Lopez —

The coronavirus pandemic is slowing down a lot of things, but not the Defense Department’s medical apparatus, which is now operating from coast to coast to bring its medical expertise and capacity to bear on the medical crisis around the nation.

In Seattle, the Army’s 627th and 47th Field Hospitals are now fully operational and maintain a 250-bed medical treatment facility at the CenturyLink Events Center.

“We have an important mission,” Army Col. Hope Williamson-Younce, commander of the 627th Hospital Center, said last week as the facilities in Seattle were set up. “We are expeditionary, we’re agile, and we’re responsive. We have medical doctors, nurses and support staff from all over the world. They mobilized in a moment’s notice to support the American people.”

In California, the Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy arrived at port in Los Angeles 12 days ago and started accepting patients just two days later.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our crew for all the hard work they did to get us here and ready in such a short time,” said Navy Capt. (Dr.) John Rotruck, the Mercy Military Treatment Facility’s commanding officer.

The Mercy has treated 28 patients so far and currently has 11 beds occupied. If the situation in Los Angeles is anything like that in New York, where the hospital ship USNS Comfort is aiding the effort, then the number of patients aboard the Mercy will start to rise as local hospitals learn about DOD’s capabilities.

Army Maj. Gen. William A. Hall, commander of Joint Task Force Civil Support in New York, said better communication between DOD medical professionals now operating in New York City and local civilian medical providers there have helped with that level of understanding, so the Comfort’s patient count has gone up.

In New York, considered by many as the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States, DOD is working hard to crush the spread of the virus. A Pentagon news release said today that the department is “aggressively pursuing a three-pronged effort in New York City.”

That effort involves augmentation of area hospitals with military medical professionals, the Comfort is expected to eventually have 500 patient beds, and the standing up of a medical care facility at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Both the Comfort and the Javits Center are now taking on patients with COVID-19. The Comfort has treated 58 patients so far, while the Javits Center is currently treating 104 patients.

More military service medical professionals are also arriving in or headed to New York and the surrounding region each day. Eight Army urban augmentation task forces began deploying yesterday, with four going to the Javits Center, three headed to the New Jersey Exposition Center, and one to conduct operations in Stamford, Connecticut.

An additional 775 Air Force and Navy medical personnel arrived yesterday at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, about 60 miles south of Manhattan, and will continue their movement to New York City to support relief operations there.

On the Gulf Coast, a Navy expeditionary medical facility is now operational at the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans and has started medical operations with the treatment of 19 patients. Also in Louisiana, the National Guard is managing multiple food banks across the state and is distributing more than 134,000 pounds of food at five locations.

In other states, nearly 24,000 National Guardsmen are joining the fight against the coronavirus as requested by their governors. Those citizen-soldiers and airmen are focused on supporting community-based testing sites, creating additional medical capacity and providing logistical support such as transportation and distribution of medical supplies and food.

In Connecticut, Guard units are expanding hospital capacity across the state with a focus on creating space for non-COVID patients to be seen. In Georgia, guardsmen are deploying infection control teams to nursing homes, assisting staff with cleaning facilities and training on proper cleaning methods to prevent the spread of disease. In New Hampshire, guardsmen are supporting 14 alternate care sites with about 1,700 beds.

Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, said that in addition to providing personnel to directly work with COVID-19 patients and to bring relief to communities where needed, DOD is one of many agencies and businesses working on the medical science side to find a cure for COVID-19.

“While the DOD emergency science efforts don’t physically touch New York, they are taking place in our labs around the country,” he said. “U.S. military researchers are at the forefront of vaccine and therapeutic development.”

Hoffman said the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases began non-human primate vaccine testing April 6.