Army Chief Of Staff Tours N.Y. Military Hospital NPR's Michel Martin speaks with Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, about what the Army is doing to help bolster New York City's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Army Chief Of Staff Tours N.Y. Military Hospital

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Army Chief Of Staff Tours N.Y. Military Hospital

Army Chief Of Staff Tours N.Y. Military Hospital

Army Chief Of Staff Tours N.Y. Military Hospital

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NPR's Michel Martin speaks with Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, about what the Army is doing to help bolster New York City's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start with the latest news about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the United States. The number of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 infections more than doubled over the past two days to more than 2,000 nationwide. The nation's top infectious disease expert is predicting that the toll could grow still. Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN this morning that he expects the number of coronavirus cases in the country to eventually reach into the millions, with as many as 200,000 deaths.

Dr. Fauci stressed that his projections could be wrong. A lot, he said, depends on measures being taken to slow the spread of the virus. One example - last night, the Centers for Disease Control issued a formal travel advisory urging residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to, quote, "refrain from nonessential domestic travel for 14 days effective immediately," unquote.

New York City is the current epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. To try and help ease the burden on increasingly overwhelmed hospitals, the U.S. Army has set up a military field hospital in Manhattan at the Javits Center. It's scheduled to open tomorrow. Army Chief of Staff General James McConville toured the facility today and joins us now from New York.

General, thank you so much for talking with us.

JAMES MCCONVILLE: Well, thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: I understand that the facility at the Javits Center is designed for non-COVID-19 cases so that the regular hospitals in the city can focus on the more seriously ill coronavirus cases. Is that correct?

MCCONVILLE: That is correct. And, you know, as President Trump said, this is a war on an invisible enemy. And I would tell you that the heroes of this war are going to be the doctors, the nurses, the scientists and the medical professionals that I'm seeing up here at the Javits Center.

MARTIN: Could you just tell us a little bit about what's there right now?

MCCONVILLE: It's an arena that our corps of engineers, the Army Corps of Engineers, came in, and they basically re-missioned it so - to establish a temporary hospital. And right now, as I walk around, there's a thousand hospital beds here, and they have the capability to add another thousand or two to that. The hospital is being manned by Army medical personnel along with public health professionals. What that's allowing them to do is to create the capability opening up Monday for a thousand hospital beds.

MARTIN: So we are hearing that there are shortages of pretty much everything needed to treat the most seriously ill COVID-19 cases - maybe not right this minute, but imminently. Are you hearing that as well? And is the Army able to help with that in any way?

MCCONVILLE: Well, what we're doing to help is really taking the pressure off the hospitals in New York City that are aggressively working to take care of the patients with COVID-19. So by doing this, is we're taking the pressure off, providing a thousand hospital beds Monday. And that has the ability to increase over the next couple weeks.

MARTIN: And New York is the main point of concern right now, as we said and as I think most people know. But it seems that there are a number of other cities and states that are struggling to keep up already or will be soon - like New Orleans, like Los Angeles and Chicago. Doctors are saying that they're expecting a surge of cases there soon. Is the Army planning to move into these areas as well?

MCCONVILLE: Yes, we are. We're - in fact, we're helping all the states. Our Corps of Engineers is going with all the state governors. They're done assessments of 181 - what we would call alternate care locations - where there are arenas or there are hotels, to health care to increase the capacity.

The states have to handle this problem. We're putting two field hospitals into Washington state. That's going into the CenturyLink Arena, very similar to what we have here. And we're working with other states, as you mentioned, that are starting to feel the effects of the virus to help them out also.

MARTIN: And in this case, I understand that technically, FEMA is the lead agency, and the Army is supporting them. What are they telling you about what they need? Can you just give us a sense of what they are saying?

MCCONVILLE: Well, we're in support of FEMA in this war on the virus. And a lot of it's capacity - just making sure that the states have the capacity to offload their critical care units so they can focus on the COVID-19 virus.

MARTIN: This week, the Army also reached out to hundreds of - thousands of retired service members to ask if they'd be willing to volunteer and also retired medical personnel. I understand that you've been getting a tremendous response. So what are you thinking about how these folks will be deployed? I mean, will they serve where they live? Like, what's your current thinking about this?

MCCONVILLE: Yeah, the thinking we're having is, we see New York City as kind of a model. We - you know, we took the Javits Center, which is a large convention center. We were able to establish a very large hospital in that. We brought in command and control, so to speak, with two field hospitals.

And so when we look at the reservists, the former reservists, the people that are retired, they want to serve, we can call them up and start to put them into these facilities like this so they'll have an opportunity to serve.

MARTIN: And before we let you go - and thanks for taking the time because I understand that, you know, all of you are very busy up there - you're hearing a lot of governors across the country expressing real frustration that they're actually having to bid against each other and against the federal government for the supplies that they need.

Is any system emerging that would decide that so that they are not - I mean, you heard the governor of Massachusetts, for example, express frustration that they had placed orders for needed equipment. Those orders were canceled. They're not getting what they say they need. And it's just - you can hear it across the country. Is there any system in place to kind of figure that out?

MCCONVILLE: Well, FEMA is the lead agency that's doing the prioritation (ph) for us. And they run a system with mission assignment orders, and they're working their way through that. And everyone is committed to trying to get the states all the support we can give them. And I think looking at innovative models like we're seeing in New York City is the best way to do this.

MARTIN: That's Army Chief of Staff General James McConville speaking to us from New York.

General, thank you so much for talking to us today.

MCCONVILLE: And thank you, Michel.

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