WASHINGTON -- Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville and others briefed reporters at the Pentagon today on steps the service is taking in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. They spoke about force health protection, coronavirus testing and how the service maintains its combat effectiveness.
The Army has also reached out to retired personnel who have the qualifications to help in the fight against COVID-19.
The Army has 288 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — 100 are soldiers, 64 are civilian employees, 65 are dependents, nine are cadets and 50 are Army contractors.
McConville said that the service is rushing two field hospitals to the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City.
The 531st Army Hospital from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and the 9th Army Hospital from Fort Hood, Texas, received orders to deploy to New York City on March 23.
"The advance party is on the ground as I speak. The main body will arrive at Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, tomorrow," the chief said. They will set up at the Javits Center in New York this weekend, and they will be operational for non-COVID-19 patients beginning March 30.
This means around 600 soldiers will be deploying to New York. They bring enough equipment for 284 beds, but since the facilities are being provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the number of beds will be much greater.
About 300 soldiers from the 627th Army Hospital from Fort Carson, Colorado, will deploy to Seattle. Soldiers are coordinating with state and local authorities and conducting a site survey of the CenturyLink Field and a state fairground. A location decision is pending, the general said.
The Army Corps of Engineers is operating in all states, territories and possessions, McConville said. The Corps is assisting FEMA and state authorities. The engineers are on the ground conducting site assessments for alternate care facilities.
More than 10,000 National Guard soldiers are supporting COVID-19 pandemic response efforts in communities in every state across the nation, the Army chief of staff said. Their missions are purely humanitarian and disaster relief — not policing.
"When we look at our soldiers across the 54 states, territories and District of Columbia, we are there to really protect our communities, not to police them, and we have no forecast or any planning taking place and we are not aware of any mission set to go down that way," said Army Lt. Gen. Dan Hoskinson, the chief of the Army National Guard.
The Army directed commanders around the world to raise the health protection condition from Bravo to Charlie. This move gives commanders more authority to control access to bases. For immediate response forces, the health protection level was raised to Delta.
The Army also has to be ready to respond to global situations, even in the middle of a pandemic. "We're continuing to train mission essential personnel," McConville said. "But really, what we're trying to do is we're trying to balance protecting the force so we can protect the nation."
Each Army commander is looking at their critical missions to determine what training they need, the chief said. "There are soldiers that need to perform critical functions around the world, and they will continue to do that based on the commander's assessment of the threat to the force and the threat to the mission," he said.