Defense Dept. reactivates field hospitals as the coronavirus continues to spike

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While the Department of Defense has been tasked with sending up to 15,000 troops to Washington, D.C. in preparation for the inauguration, its other operational obligations have not stopped. In fact, requests for DoD support in the fight against COVID-19 seem to have taken a turn for the worse.

During a press briefing on Monday, Chief of the National Guard Bureau Army Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson confirmed that New York National Guard personnel are working to reactivate the Javits Convention Center as a field hospital. The facility closed on May 1 after New York appeared to be past its COVID-19 peak.

Hokanson emphasized that the New York Guard sent troops to Washington, D.C. on top of the troops it had already activated in COVID-19 capacities. Across the Guard, 64,000 troops are active with 21,000 of those dedicated to COVID-19 operations.

On top of Guard operations, the DoD has also deployed active-duty personnel to areas that are experiencing resurgences of the virus that surpass initial peaks.

At the beginning of January, U.S. Army North Joint Force Land Component Command, the force responsible for active-duty COVID-19 operations across the country, sent about 150 military medical personnel from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army to California and approximately 40 U.S. Army Reserve medical personnel deployed to support Arizona.

“As demand for federal military support increases in some locations and declines in others, we can adjust our presence as directed by the Department of Defense,” said Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, ARNORTH and JFLCC commander. “While military medical resources are finite, our commitment to support the whole-of-America response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to ease the burden of the coronavirus and to improve the lives of the people in California, Arizona, New Mexico and the Navajo Nation is untold.”

ARNORTH also sent  25 U.S. Army Reserve medical personnel to New Mexico and Arizona to expand support to the Navajo Nation.

California requested additional DoD support after its COVID-19 fatalities quickly grew to 30,000 deaths this month. It took six months for the nation's most populous state to reach 10,000 deaths but barely a month to jump from 20,000 to 30,000 deaths, according to the Associated Press. In addition to providing medical support in hospitals, Guard troops also brought refrigerated trucks to the state last week to serve as temporary morgues. California ranks third nationally for COVID-19-related deaths, behind Texas and New York, which is No. 1 with nearly 40,000.

The DoD’s role is two-fold as it works to both assist those infected by the virus as well as vaccinate those who have not yet been infected. As of Monday, Operation Warp Speed had successfully distributed 3.3 million additional vaccines bringing the total number of distributed doses to 25,697,500.

Within the DoD, close to 187,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported. As it has across the country, infection rates among the Defense force have steadily continued to increase. As of Monday, 120,106 military personnel have been confirmed COVID-positive.

In total, 206 DoD-affiliated personnel have been killed by the virus -- 15 of which were military personnel.