Remember MASH, the TV show? There’s a decent chance that there will be a new, live version, coming into existence soon.
As the coronavirus continues to take hold, some states in the U.S. are being hit harder than others. New York, in particular, is experiencing an increasingly large number of infections. The New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, is pleading for more assistance from the federal government, specifically from the Department of Defense.
Governor Cuomo fears that anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of New Yorkers will contract the coronavirus. Considering that New York has a population of 19 million, if his projections are accurate, there will be many sick people in need of medical care.
Currently, New York has around 53,000 hospital beds and only 3,200 of those beds are in Intensive Care Units. If the Governor’s predictions are right, the number of patients will surpass the number of available hospital beds. Due to this somber fact, Governor Cuomo has asked the federal government to deploy the Army Corps of Engineers to New York to build temporary facilities. He went on to say, “this is what they do, this is what they do. They build hospitals. And if you don’t do it, you know what is going to happen. You have people on gurneys in hallways, that is what is going to happen now if we do nothing.”
Governor Cuomo claimed that the Army Corps of Engineers could construct mobile medical facilities (essentially large tents) and convert buildings, such as dormitories and schools, into functional medical facilities.
President Trump has acknowledged the Governor’s plea, stating that the process of mobilizing the Army Corps of Engineers and field hospital personnel has begun. Nevertheless, President Trump made it clear that the federal government has not made a final decision on whether to deploy these assets to New York and other hard-hit areas yet.
During a White House Press Conference on Tuesday, March 17, when asked about his plans to send in the Army Corps of Engineers, the President’s response was: “Yes, we’re starting to. We’re starting the process. And it’s a process — we hope it’s not going to be necessary, but it could be necessary. The state is working on it very hard themselves, but we’ll probably supplement what they’re doing.”
The Pentagon has made it a point to clarify that the military has its limitations for what kind of support they can provide for treating coronavirus patients. The Joint Staff Surgeon, Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, stated that “The military’s small mobile tent hospitals are designed for the treatment of combat trauma and would be ill-suited for isolation of coronavirus patients.”
“The challenge is, if we build a 200-bed or a 25-bed trauma hospital to take care of people with coronavirus, that’s not really a great solution to the coronavirus challenge.” Friedrichs went on to say that the Army Corps “[doesn’t] have any 500-bed hospitals designed for infectious disease outbreaks. That does not exist in the inventory.”
Additionally, he warned that “the doctors who staff MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) units are trained to deal with trauma, not infectious diseases.”
The Pentagon has also expressed concern about the ability to fill these tent units with medical personnel. Military doctors and nurses already have the responsibility of taking care of and treating military forces.
The idea of mobilizing medical personnel that is in the Reserves or National Guard has also been considered, but the fear is that these individuals would be removed from their civilian medical professions, where they may be likely already assisting with treating patients.
Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman said that “the Department of Defense is ready, willing and able to support civilian authorities to the greatest extent possible at the direction of the President.”
Military officials want to be sure that decisions that are made, are being made with hard facts, with a full understanding of the military’s capabilities.