““We need the federal government to play its role,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Monday. “The federal government has tremendous capacity.”
Much of that capacity is untapped. Hospital ships are at port. The Department of Veterans Affairs, legally designated as the backup health care system in national emergencies, awaits requests for help. The veterans department has a surplus of beds in many of its 172 hospital centers and a robust number of special rooms for patients with breathing disorders.
The sprawling system of emergency doctors and nurses ready to be deployed by the Department of Health and Human Services — known as the National Disaster Medical System — is also still waiting for orders, other than to staff locations where passengers offloaded from cruise ships are being quarantined.
And the Defense Department, home to 1.3 million active-duty troops and a civilian and military infrastructure that has made planning for national emergencies almost an art form, has yet to be deployed to its fullest capabilities. Senior Pentagon officials say they are ready to assist in any way that is ordered, but they also caution that much of the military’s emergency medical care is designed for combat trauma or natural disasters, and not mass quarantine for infections.
The last time a big infectious disease epidemic emerged, President Barack Obama dispatched nearly 3,000 American troops to Liberia to build hospitals and treatment centers to help fight Ebola. The Pentagon opened a joint command operation at a hotel in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, to coordinate the international effort to combat the disease, and the American military provided engineers to help construct additional treatment facilities and sent people to train health care workers in West Africa to deal with the crisis.”…“Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said on Tuesday that the Pentagon will make available to the Department of Health and Human Services up to 5 million N95 masks, which can be used to help protect health workers and vulnerable people against the virus. The first 1 million, he said, would be available immediately.
The Pentagon is also making available 2,000 ventilators for hospitals, a number that would likely fall far short of the expected need. “When you look at how many people who may need it”
“Field hospitals and the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy are designed for trauma wounds, not viruses, and doctors would have to be assigned from elsewhere to staff them. The ships, each with a 1,000-bed capacity, have helped in natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes, not quarantines.
Defense Department officials said that one possibility for the Comfort would be to station in New York Harbor and absorb non-coronavirus patients in New York, which could free up hospital beds in Manhattan to attend to infectious cases.”
“Oregon sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on March 3 asking for 400,000 N95 masks. For days, it got no response, and only by March 14 received its first shipment, of 36,800 masks. But there was a problem. Most of the equipment they got was well past the expiration date and so “wouldn’t be suitable for surgical settings,” the state said.
New York City also put in a request for more than 2 million masks and only received 76,000; all were expired, said Deanne Criswell, New York City’s emergency management commissioner. The city is also requesting additional beds for intensive care units and medical teams to staff a convention center that may be turned into a temporary medical facility.”
“FEMA officials said the Department of Health and Human Services remains in charge of the federal response, and it too is waiting for orders from the agency before it moves to ramp up assistance.”
“In previous national emergencies, FEMA would be responsible for finding out where to obtain masks, ventilators, hospital beds and tents from either the military or the private sector and ensuring the supplies are delivered to states, according to Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security under President George W. Bush who oversaw the response to Hurricane Katrina.
“They have relationships and know where to look for things,’ Mr. Chertoff said. “Without that it’s not clear to me who would be doing the coordination and facilitation function.””