2020-03-21 04:29:25 UTC
WASHINGTON-The U.S. military said Friday it is preparing plans to take over
hotels and other buildings if necessary to add to the nation's supply of
hospital rooms, part of its response to the coronavirus emergency.
Pentagon officials detailed the plans as they opened up the range of
military capabilities and forces this week, with preparations for deploying
thousands of National Guard troops, providing hospital ships and ferrying
The head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlined plans for taking over
as many as 10,000 hotel rooms, college dormitories and other spaces in New
York to provide medical services to accommodate the exponential increase of
Based on a request from state officials and the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, or FEMA, which is coordinating the crisis response for the White
House, the Corps would forge contracts with hotels, colleges and possibly
sports arenas-all of which are largely empty anyway-to begin to transform
them into medical facilities, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite said.
"We would then take the building over in a period of an exceptionally short
amount of days, and we would go in and turn this into an ICU-like facility,"
Nurses' stations would be built in the hallways of the empty hotels, for
example, he said. Other equipment, including wireless capability to give
medical staff the ability to monitor individual patients, also would be
installed, he said.
The planning reflects the urgency the military has begun to bring to the
issue this week as state governors and the White House scrambled to prepare
for a substantial increase in the number of coronavirus cases nationwide.
State and federal officials have forecast a steep demand for medical support
as hospitals are expected to become overrun with patients.
As of Friday, there were nearly 17,000 cases of the virus in the U.S.,
contributing to more than 200 deaths. California and Washington state have
seen the fastest spread, but New York has become a center of the pandemic in
the U.S., with more than 4,400 cases. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been
pushing the federal government and the military for assistance.
Other military capabilities were already on the way. Defense Secretary Mark
Esper this week pledged two hospital ships, more than five million face
masks, virus test kits and ventilators to those regions that need it,
marking the first public offer of specific equipment and supplies the
military could provide.
In the meantime, Pentagon officials said Friday that the National Guard
already had activated hundreds more Guardsmen to help states.
A total of more than 3,300 Air and Army National Guardsmen were activated in
nearly 30 states and U.S. territories as of Friday, including California and
Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, head of the military's National Guard Bureau,
said Thursday he expected the demand for more Guardsmen to grow rapidly
across the nation.
"It's hard to tell what the exact requirement will be, but I'm expecting
tens of thousands to be used inside the states as this grows," he said. "I
think this could quickly blossom in the next couple of weeks as governors
and states determine their needs and ways to use their National Guards."
There are about 450,000 Guardsmen across the nation, most serving in a
part-time capacity. Guard units also are being asked by governors to help
with local and state government logistics, transportation, sanitation and
sterilization and other efforts.
Some state and federal officials have suggested the Guard could back up law
enforcement personnel in areas that are under severe restrictions to contain
the spread of the virus, a move that could stoke public debate about the
role of the military in civilian U.S. life.
Gen. Lengyel said that placing the Guard under federal control for a
nationwide law enforcement function also would detract from the flexibility
governors now have in using the Guard.