Military personnel will begin treating coronavirus patients at new medical facilities that have popped up in the cities of New York, New Orleans and Dallas, the White House said Thursday, marking a shift in policy for how the Pentagon is aiding in the medical response to the pandemic.
Vice President Pence said at a White House briefing on the virus that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients ‘if push comes to shove’ Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE had directed the Department of Defense to use military personnel to operate facilities fully focused on coronavirus patients.
The move comes one day after Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperEsper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients ‘if push comes to shove’ Overnight Defense: 2,700 sailors evacuating coronavirus-stricken carrier | Military to send ships, aircraft for counter-narcotics effort amid pandemic | Trump alleges Iranian plot for ‘sneak attack’ on US troops in Iraq Trump announces enhanced counternarcotics operation at coronavirus briefing MORE said in response to a question from The Hill that the military would not be treating coronavirus patients unless “push comes to shove,” asserting the Pentagon’s resources are better used building hospitals and treating trauma patients to lighten the load on hospitals.
Instead, the military will operate the Javits Center in New York City, the convention center in New Orleans and the convention center in Dallas.
All three facilities were turned into makeshift hospitals by the Army Corps of Engineers and National Guard to help deal with the surge in patients, though they were initially expected to only house people dealing with illnesses other than coronavirus to help ease the burden on existing hospitals.
The Pentagon has also deployed Naval hospital ships to New York City and Los Angeles to provide additional hospital bed capacity for non-coronavirus patients.
But The New York Times reported on Thursday that the USNS Comfort in New York has only taken on 20 patients, infuriating hospital executives who were grappling with a lack of space in their own facilities.
The increased participation by the military reflects the reality that cities across the country are scrambling to find as many hospital beds as possible to treat coronavirus patients as cases surge in certain metro areas.
There were more than 245,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of Thursday night, according to Johns Hopkins University data, and more than 5,000 Americans had died from the virus.