Trump deploying hospital ships to coronavirus hot zones

“They are in tip-top shape,” Trump said.

The Navy is getting ships crewed and ready to launch, defense officials said. Mercy should be underway in days, but Comfort could take two weeks to deploy because it is still finishing up maintenance, according to chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman.

Esper told reporters Tuesday that the Pentagon is preparing the ships, which are equipped with 1,000 hospital beds each, for a potential deployment to hotspots to relieve civilian hospitals dealing with the virus.

Defense officials noted that the hospital ships aren’t conducive to containing infectious disease outbreaks, but can be used to treat non-coronavirus patients while existing medical facilities focus on disease treatment.

“Our capabilities are focused on trauma … they don’t have necessarily the segregated spaces that you need to deal with infectious diseases,” Esper said Tuesday, adding that deploying the hospital ships could “take the pressure off of civilian hospitals when it comes to trauma cases to open up civilian hospital rooms for infectious diseases.”

In addition to the hospital ships, the Pentagon has put on alert 1,000 “deployable” beds from a variety of different medical units, said Joint Staff Surgeon Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs. These temporary units are designed to deal with trauma patients, he said.

Esper said Wednesday that Army Corps of Engineers officials are in New York meeting with Cuomo to go over options for additional actions.

Separately, the Pentagon has opened its 16 certified coronavirus testing labs to test non-DoD personnel, will make available up to 5 million respirator masks and other personal protective equipment from its own reserves and distribute up to 2,000 deployable ventilators to the Department of Health and Human Services, Esper said.

Meanwhile, the Air Force on Tuesday flew 500,000 swabs used as part of testing kits from Italy to Memphis, Tenn., on a military cargo plane, officials said, confirming a report by Defense One. In Memphis, the shipment was loaded onto FedEx aircraft and distributed per HHS direction around the country, Hoffman said.

The Air Force is in discussions to provide additional transport capability for test kits, and to support evacuations with cargo aircraft modified to treat infectious diseases, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.