Pentagon Looking at Options to Help Coronavirus Response

US military medics treat a mock victim in a tent during a joint medical evacuatioin exerci
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

The Pentagon said Monday it has not yet received any requests from other government agencies for medical facilities, equipment, and personnel, but is looking at options to help deal with a potential coronavirus crisis in the United States if needed.

Chief Pentagon Spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said:

We are looking at a number of different options with regard to resources and what we can do. We’ve done that analysis and are continuing to do it, and…it can be provided up to the president and the White House for making decisions as requests come in.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Fredrichs, surgeon at the Joint Staff, added: “Yes we do have plans looking at the capabilities that we have and then if we’re asked to provide them or if we’re tasked to say what’s in the realm of the possible, we can look at those plans.”

Both officials, however, underlined that there are limits to the what the military can provide, and that it could come with tradeoffs.

Fredrichs said, for instance, if military reserve medical personnel are activated, that takes them away from their civilian medical job. “That directly impacts the community where they work. That’s the tradeoff,” he said.

Fredrichs said there are only 36 Pentagon hospitals in the United States that are “relatively small hospitals,” or under 1,000 beds. He said many of them are configured to support military needs.

Civilian leaders have been increasingly pressing for military intervention. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged in an op-ed to President Trump on Monday morning that the military build hospital beds. Hoffman said the Pentagon has not yet received a request to construct anything.

He said:

We have not received an RFA or request to actually do any construction, that would be something that we would look at. At this time I think there are some other options out there that we’ve seen, private companies that are able to do some of the construction, there are other facilities, but we have not been asked to take a look at that yet but we are standing by to look at RFAs as they come and work with the White House on deciding how we best support those.

And Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Sunday during a debate called for the military to provide 500-bed hospital tents.

Hoffman said the Pentagon is looking into how fast those could be deployed, but he and Fredrichs also warned against “overpromising.”

Fredrichs said:

We want to be factual about what we have, our fixed facilities are designed to the force that we have — they’re not 1,000-bed medical centers all over the United States. Our deployable hospitals range in size and range in capabilities and are very focused and designed to take care of those in combat.

Hoffman added that with regards to tent hospitals, personnel is a limiting factor.

“Even if we are able to build tents for hospitals, we still need the doctors, we still need the nurses, we need the orderlies, we need the equipment — all that in there, and as the general mentioned, those individuals from our system would come from existing hospitals or the reserves.”

He said the Pentagon has only two to three percent of hospital beds compared to what the civilian side has.

As far as how many ventilators the Pentagon could provide, Hoffman said the department is not prepared to give that number out, since it would expose deployable medical capability.

On whether the military could be asked to perform law enforcement functions, Hoffman said, “The governors have the ability to call up the National Guard as they see fit.”


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