Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Sunday that the Pentagon will deploy more than 1,100 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to New York City to help combat the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 9,000 Americans.
More than 2,250 of those deaths occurred in New York City where the Army Corps of Engineers converted the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center into what Esper told CNN will be the “largest hospital in the United States.”
Esper said most of the health care personnel deployed to New York City will serve in the converted center, which will have a 2,500-bed capacity. He said the Pentagon decided late Saturday to “deploy a few hundred of them to 11 New York City hospitals that are also seeing a deficiency when it comes to medical staff.”
The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort is docked in New York to assist with the crisis but is treating only a few dozen patients. Esper explained that the ship was being used to treat only trauma patients to ease the burden on the city’s hospitals and keep non-COVID-19 patients from becoming infected. There are fewer trauma cases than usual amid the outbreak because more people are staying home.
Esper said he gave the authority to treat coronavirus patients on the floating 1,000-bed hospital to the head of Northern Command, Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, “to make that call when he needs to make that call.”
He said that including the Javits Center, the military has established eight field hospitals across the USA to help deal with the outbreak. An additional 22 will “come online in the next two weeks,” Esper said.
Many on Capitol Hill have criticized the Pentagon chief for not doing enough and not acting quickly enough to address the crisis.
“There is a lack of leadership right now that is coming out of the Pentagon,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., told Politico. Gallego, a former Marine who served in Iraq and sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said Esper was too focused on keeping the military ready to face other threats rather than how he could protect service members and use military resources to fight the outbreak.
“If you try to treat it as a readiness problem, you are never going to get on top of this. You need to treat it as a public health problem,” Gallego said.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a former Army Ranger who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, told The Hill, “I think the Pentagon didn’t take this seriously as fast as they should have.” He cited a committee hearing Feb. 26 when Esper said the Pentagon had not considered whether additional resources were needed to deal with the virus.
“The fact that the Pentagon was not yet having those discussions tells me that they were getting at this problem too late. So here we are now in a crisis,” Crow said.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said, “The whole society, including the military, has been playing catch-up on COVID-19 because we have never seen anything like this before.” But he cautioned against “being too critical under the circumstances.”
Esper disputed those characterizations of the Pentagon’s response to the pandemic.
“The Department of Defense has been all in now since the beginning of this, going back two-plus months to January. We have been all in and ahead of the curve when it comes to responding to the coronavirus,” Esper said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Last week, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly relieved Capt. Brett Crozier of his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after Crozier distributed a letter, which was obtained by the news media, pleading for help amid an outbreak on the aircraft carrier.
Saturday, President Donald Trump defended Modly’s decision, saying Crozier’s letter was “not appropriate.”
Esper said Sunday that he supported Crozier’s removal because Modly “had lost faith and confidence in the captain, based on his actions.” He said there is an investigation into the matter.
“Modly made a very tough decision, a decision that I support,” Esper said. “It’s just another example how we hold leaders accountable for their actions.”
Esper disputed the idea that the Navy had not taken the outbreak on the aircraft carrier seriously enough, saying “the entire military chain of command” was involved “in terms of providing support to this crew.”
He said the crew was doing well.
“I’m pleased to report, right now, over half of the ship has been tested. Only 155 sailors have come up positive. Those are all mild and moderate. There have been no hospitalizations whatsoever,” he said. “So the crew is being taken care of out there.”
Later Sunday, Esper issued a new guidance that anyone on Defense Department property has to wear a cloth face covering “when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers.”
“We want to take every measure to protect our troops,” Esper told ABC News “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos ahead of the announcement. He explained that maintaining a six-foot distance from others was not an option for those working in places like submarines or tanks, “So, we have to take other measures.”
Article source: http://rssfeeds.usatoday.com/~/620896710/0/usatodaycomwashington-topstories~Secretary-of-Defense-Mark-Esper-Converted-NYC-convention-center-will-be-largest-hospital-in-the-United-States/