The 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship Mercy will sail to Los Angeles and not to Seattle, as officials anticipate bed demand in California will be five times higher than in Washington.
The Mercy, which is currently being prepared in port in San Diego, is one of two that will be used as a referral and critical care hospital to take the pressure off hospitals better equipped to handle infectious disease on the front lines of the battle with COVID-19.
“The Department of Defense has been given direction to dispatch it to Los Angeles immediately,” FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said during a White House briefing on March 22. “DOD has advised that Mercy can get into position within a week or less of today’s order.”
Washington currently has more cases of the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, than California. However, according to Gaynor, “The projected need for beds in California is five times more than that of Washington.”
“The ship will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals, and will provide a full spectrum of medical care to include critical and urgent care for adults,” the Navy stated in a news release March 23.
“This will allow local health professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and for shore-based hospitals to use their Intensive Care Units and ventilators for those patients.”
Another hospital ship, the Comfort, will likely head to New York, but may not be able to sail for a few weeks from its base in Norfolk, Virginia, where it has been undergoing maintenance.
“That’s a ‘weeks’ issue, so it’s going to be a little while,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters March 18. “At that time, it’s intended to head to New York, but we’ll continue to evaluate the situation and make a determination on where it’s best suited.”
Hoffman indicated that the military would help in any way it could, but said its medical capacity was limited, with only 2 percent of the hospital bed capacity in the country.
Engineers and National Guards
The military is being used in various other ways to assist with the crisis caused by the CCP virus.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will build land-based, alternative care sites in Washington, California, and New York, President Donald Trump announced on March 22.
Eight large federal medical stations will be built with at least 2,000 beds. Washington will get three large and four small medical facilities with 1,000 beds.
The president also announced that federal funding was being made available to the National Guard in the three states—granting Title 32 status—leaving the governors free to activate units without worrying about the cost.
“That Title 32 status is no different than when the National Guard responds to natural disasters,” wrote the head of the National Guard, Gen. Joseph Lengyel, on Twitter.
“Governors and adjutants general, who know best what is needed on the ground, will continue to command Guardsmen and women and use them where they are needed most.”
The reservist National Guard, organized under the Department of Defense, is predominantly a state resource—the modern-day heir to organized state militias.
Officials emphasized that the March 22 announcement didn’t mean the National Guard had been “federalized,” i.e. were now under the command of the president.
The default legal position is that Guardsmen are commanded by the state governor, not the federal government.
Federalizing the Guard would strip the Guard of the ability to engage in law enforcement. This is because a military force under the command of the president is forbidden by the Posse Comitatus Act to be used on U.S. citizens to enforce the law.
Lengyel said on March 22: “I hear unfounded rumors about National Guard troops supporting a nationwide quarantine. Let me be clear: There has been no such discussion.”
More than 7,000 members of the 450,000-strong Guard have been called out across all 50 states, according to a statement (pdf) on March 22.
The Guard has so far been providing medical testing, assessments, facilities, ground transportation, transport, logistics, command and control, and liaison officers, Lengyel said.
Guardsmen include medics. But since they are drawn from the civilian population, officials say enlisting their help has to be balanced against the fact that they would likely already be on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.
FEMA is considering an offer from cruise company Carnival Corporation to turn several cruise ships into temporary hospitals.
“If we need them. I hope we don’t need them,” Trump said at the briefing.
The Epoch Times refers to the novel coronavirus as the CCP virus because the Chinese Communist Party’s coverup and mismanagement allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.