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Covid-19: Pentagon deploying medical ships, Trump to sign defence production act

18 March 2020
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Defense Secretary Mark Esper briefs reporters about the department’s Covid-19 response at the Pentagon on 17 March. Source: DoD

US troops are set to deploy around the country to help with the nation's Covid-19 medical response, while President Donald Trump is also set to invoke a defence production act to increase the manufacturing of medical equipment like masks and ventilators.

Trump and other administration officials announced a range of new Covid-19 efforts at the White House on 18 March, including several measures that will affect the military sector. One of the chief measures will be a new defence production act aimed at bolstering the nation's supply of medical equipment, but details were not readily available.

The Pentagon is also set to deploy two medical ships, USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) and USNS Mercy , along the east and west coasts, but a firm timetable was not detailed.

However, during a press conference on 17 March, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, "We've already given orders to the navy a few days ago to lean forward, in terms of getting them ready to deploy. They provide capabilities, but much like what DOD does provide, our capabilities are focused on trauma."

He noted that the two vessels could serve individuals suffering from traumatic injuries in order to free hospital beds for those suffering from Covid-19. Military field hospitals could also be established to act in a similar capacity.

In addition to providing this direct medical care, Esper announced that the Pentagon was "donating" 2,000 ventilators and 5 million single-use N95 respirators to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"These [ventilators] require some special training . we'd have to do a 'train the trainer', if you will," Esper said. "Maybe provide some people to make sure that the civilians who would use them, know how to use them properly."

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