WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department is adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic and leaders at all levels are looking at resources, processes and personnel needed to fight the virus, Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, said today during a Pentagon news conference.
The department must protect its service members, DOD civilians and families, but there is still a mission that must be done, he said.
"We've been very careful to say that there's no bright lines, things we won't consider," Hoffman said. "Every day we're going to get up, we're going to look at where the virus is, we're going to look at how it's impacting the Department of Defense, and we're going to make decisions to balance what the risk is, what missions we need to accomplish that day, and what the impact is going to be long-term."
For example, Army field hospitals deployed to New York and Seattle have been cleared to handle COVID-19 patients. Originally, they were going to treat trauma victims.
Overall, DOD has more than 400 doctors, 1,000 nurses and 60 respiratory therapists supporting the fight on the front lines at the different sites, Hoffman said. "We have another 350 doctors, 500 nurses and almost 100 respiratory therapists that are on the way," he said.
The Army Corps of Engineers is working closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, governors and mayors to set up temporary field hospitals in the areas with the greatest need. "They built a hospital at the Javits Center in New York in just under four days to provide further relief to local healthcare workers," he said.
Corps employees have also completed site selection of 549 of 669 alternate care facility sites, he said.
The department continues to provide medical supplies to civilian hospitals. DOD has turned over 5 million N-95 masks to HHS, and Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper has approved turning over another 5 million masks from the strategic stockpile.
Almost 20,000 National Guardsmen nationwide are working to combat COVID-19. "In Louisiana, for example, 1,200 National Guardsmen have helped deliver over 36,000 N-95 masks, 1.2 million gloves and 50,000 protective suits to testing sites throughout the state," he said.
But even with all these actions, the U.S. armed services are a warfighting force. Readiness is key to deterrence and "we will smartly do whatever it takes to maintain the readiness of the force," Hoffman said. "With our operations spanning around 400 bases around the world in 150 countries and 50 states, we balance risks to the force every day.
"But we will not stand down, we will trust our commanders to do what is best for their troops," he continued. "Rest assured that we were prepared to assist Americans who are prepared to defend our country if necessary."