While the personnel of the Defense Department have already done incredible work to combat the coronavirus, they must do more, said Max Rose, a special advisor on COVID-19 to the defense secretary.
Rose and Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon, spoke during a briefing at the Pentagon today. He took up his job last week when Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III assumed office.
“The secretary has made this absolutely clear: We have to move further. We have to move faster. We have to be as bold as possible, all the while remembering that it is our utmost [mission] to protect and defend the United States at home, as well as abroad,” Rose said during the briefing.
Rose, who served as an Army infantryman in Afghanistan and was wounded in action there, said Austin sent a clear message to all in DOD when his first act in office was to convene a meeting on COVID-19. This firmly established that combatting the pandemic is his number one priority.
DOD leaders are firmly committed to protecting the DOD workforce and their families and safeguarding the department’s mission capabilities, he said. Department personnel are also working on the front lines to combat the effects of a pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.
DOD works in support of civilian agencies in this effort. DOD personnel are working in many civilian hospitals to help in the crisis. They’re also helping with logistics, and leaders are looking for ways the department can do more. “Today there are over 20,000 National Guardsmen deployed providing COVID support, including at over 216 vaccine sites in 36 states and territories,” Rose said. “DOD has over 1,000 military medical personnel on prepare-to-deploy orders available to support state and local requests for assistance that have come through FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency].”
The current support includes 224 medical personnel to support eight hospitals and an intensive care unit facility in California. There are another 80 medical personnel to support three hospitals in Texas, and 87 medical personnel are supporting three hospitals in Arizona and New Mexico.
The Army Corps of Engineers has deployed more than 40 personnel to help California hospitals handle the flood of COVID-19 cases. “Those resources are certainly available to any hospital or any other health care entity that is looking to expand their existing infrastructure,” Rose said.
Friedrichs spoke about the department’s vaccine plan, which is aligned with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s rollout plan.
Vaccinations for groups in the first category began in December. This is almost finished, he said, and includes medical personnel, police, emergency frontline workers, and those caring for patients or military personnel with COVID-19. The residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Centers in Washington, D.C., and Gulfport, Mississippi, have also been vaccinated. The department will now move on to those beneficiaries over 75 and personnel who are preparing to deploy outside the United States. Also in this tranche are personnel in strategic or national security roles, as well as key frontline workers like teachers, support staff and those working in child and youth services.
“That group will then be followed by those who are over the age of 65, as well as younger personnel who have significant risk factors, and we’ll continue to work through the DOD extended family until everyone who desires to have a vaccine has been able to receive it,” the general said.
He stressed that this will take some time to accomplish. To date, the department has received 769,000 doses of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines. These have been distributed to 306 sites around the world. “If we look at the last two weeks, DOD has administered all of the vaccine doses received,” the general said. “That’s, I think, an example of the great work done by many people across our bases and in our communities to make sure that we’re as efficient as possible with this.”
Both Rose and Friedrichs promised regular reports on the progress in the future.