President Trump has received confirmation that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to help out any way they can. They’re only waiting for the orders. The Pentagon agrees USACE can be helpful, and promises to send them out, but first they need to figure out the best plan of attack. Army surgeons are all set to cut people apart and stitch them back together, while the control of infectious diseases is a totally different challenge.
MASH units waiting to go mobile
At Tuesday’s White House task force briefing, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters that the team is working with the Pentagon. They’re exploring ways that the military can help ease the burden on civilian hospitals and medical staff.
One possibility is that portable “MASH” units could be set up. While there is no doubt that temporary hospitals can be rapidly deployed, the problem is that they’re set up for battlefield trauma. Their acronym stands for “Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.” Everyone is holding their breath, waiting for the brass to take command.
Brigadier General Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon, wanted to be clear that this isn’t TV medicine. “What we’re trying to be very careful about is not over-promising. You know, we want be factual about what we have.” And what they don’t have. “We don’t have any 500 bed hospitals designed for infectious disease outbreaks. That does not exist.”
Handling the trauma cases
That doesn’t mean they can’t contribute. The trained construction crews can still help renovate or expand existing facilities. Another thing they can easily do is handle the trauma load to free up bed space and resources for virus needs. Decisions will be “informed by the facts of what is possible and what is not and what those trade-offs are,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathon Hoffman declared.
Hospital ships could be used near coastal cities too. The Pentagon has “concerns about introducing the virus aboard a vessel that was primarily designed to treat trauma patients.” They could still help out to “free up strained medical staff” by providing “emergency room support or trauma support.” The military can also provide urgently needed medical supplies from their reserve stockpiles.
On Monday, President Trump met with the Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, Three star General Todd Semonite, to ask him for help. After the meeting they put out an official statement confirming they’re ready, willing, and able to help as soon as they get the word from the Pentagon. “The US Army Corps of Engineers is prepared to assist the nation in a time of crisis to the very best of its capabilities, and we are postured to lean forward when an official request is received through the Department of Defense.”
They were already ahead of the game. “As a precautionary measure, USACE has begun assessing our capabilities in this area in conjunction with our partners.” They confirm they have the required skills to help. “USACE does have the capability and experience in medical facilities construction.” They are standing by for orders. “At this time, however, USACE has not been assigned a COVID-19 support mission.”
One way or another, the military will be on the front lines of the current crisis as soon as the most effective use of their resources is determined.