The nation could face a severe hospital bed shortage if it reaches the worst-case scenario with the coronavirus outbreak in the United States — potentially 4.7 million patients, or 5.7 for every domestic hospital bed, according to a USA Today study.
There is, however, one solution to create more hospital beds in a rush: Task the military.
President Trump said Tuesday during a White House press conference that the Pentagon can deploy field hospitals and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can retrofit existing sites into hospital centers to alleviate the hospital bed shortage.
The Pentagon said Monday it stands ready to assist in the nation’s response to coronavirus, if requested. The Trump administration — either through Health and Human Services (HHS) or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — can request the Pentagon to help provide facilities that could be used as temporary hospitals — if not for those suffering from coronavirus, then for those with less critical ailments in order to free up hospital beds
There are a number of ways the Pentagon can help.
It can provide some hospital beds at its 36 hospitals across the nation. Officials warn, however, that most of them are small community hospitals with fewer than 1,000 beds that are not suited for infectious disease cases. However, patients with less urgent illnesses or ailments can be directed to military hospitals, freeing up beds at civilian hospitals for coronavirus patients.
The Pentagon also has two hospital ships, with about 1,000 beds each. Those would only help states near the water, and similar to military hospitals, are not specifically suited for infectious diseases cases but can take patients to lessen the burden on civilian hospitals.
The Pentagon could, as the president noted, deploy tent hospitals of varying sizes and capabilities depending on the mission. Defense officials say they are looking at how fast those tent hospitals can be provided. They warn, however, that they will need medical personnel to staff those tent hospitals and calling National Guard or Reserve medical personnel to duty may shortchange their medical civilian jobs and communities.
“The president has us inventorying what you all understand as field hospitals, or MASH hospitals, that can be deployed very quickly,” said Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday during the White House press conference.
“The field hospitals go up very quickly. We have them. We have all of this equipment in stock, and we’re looking at different sites in different locations,” Trump added.
The Pentagon can also direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work on rapidly modifying existing sites into overflow hospital centers — again, if not for coronavirus patients, then patients with less urgent needs in order to free up beds for coronavirus patients. Since the Army Corps of Engineers does not actually build anything, but issues contracts to private companies to then work on projects, it would need to start right away.
“The Army Corps is very prepared to do as we say,” Trump said. “The Army Corps of Engineers is ready, willing, and able. We have to give them the go-ahead if we find that is necessary, and we can get quite a few units up very rapidly.”
Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Gene Pawlik told Breitbart News in an email on Tuesday:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is prepared to assist the nation in a time of crisis to the very best of its capabilities, and we are postured to learn forward when an official request is received through the Department of Defense. As a precautionary measure, USACE has begun assessing our capabilities in this area in conjunction with our partners. At this time, however, USACE has not been assigned a COVID-19 support mission.
The National Guard can provide armories for overflow hospital centers, expertise on logistics, and hospital and facilities management.
“Whatever the governor’s office asks for to pick our brains, we’ll scour amongst our force,” New York National Guard spokesman Col. Richard Goldenberg told Breitbart News.
“The National Guard is a reflection of different aspects, so it’s not just military skill sets and experience, but we may have members with civilian skill sets and experiences, either in hospital management, facilities management, or other types of skill sets they may need,” he added.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has called for the military to help turn existing facilities, such as military bases and college dormitories — many of which are vacated due to the coronavirus — into temporary medical centers.
Eric Adams, president of the Brooklyn Burroughs, said his office has identified a range of publicly-owned options in Brooklyn and is investigating privately-owned sites as well. He suggested in a letter to Cuomo a decommissioned detention site, schools, and sports facilities.
In response to @NYGovCuomo's and @NYCMayor's call for #COVID19 hospital overflow sites, my office has ID'ed a range of publicly-owned options in Brooklyn, and are still investigating privately-owned sites as well. We must consider armories, schools, and any other suitable spaces. pic.twitter.com/vSni5yYBzF
— Eric Adams (@BPEricAdams) March 16, 2020
Cuomo said Tuesday morning he was working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the New York National Guard to create more hospital bed space.
“The state is working on it very hard by themselves, but we’ll probably supplement what they’re doing,” Trump said Tuesday at a White House press conference.
Other governors can request the same help from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard, but the Trump administration can direct the Pentagon and the National Guard to start looking at these measures for every state now so they are ready if and when governors ask.