Esper Says Navy Ships Treating Patients Without Coronavirus Will Help Alleviate Hospitals

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper holds a media briefing at the Pentagon on August 28, 2019. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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March 18, 2020 6:56 p.m.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper responded to President Trump’s remark earlier Wednesday that he’s preparing to deploy two Navy hospital ships to treat patients seeking treatments for ailments not related to the coronavirus during an interview on CNN.

Earlier Wednesday during the coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Esper said that the Pentagon is going to free up five million protective masks and 2,000 ventilators in the wake of hospitals experiencing a severe shortage of key supplies.

When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper about Trump talking about deploying hospital ships — one to New York and another to the west coast — to help overwhelmed medical facilities, Esper agreed with the notion that the ships will be something like “floating emergency rooms” for other medical issues.

“Yeah, you have to keep in mind — and I’ve had this discussion with my colleagues in the interagency, I’ve talked to several governors as well — that DOD capabilities, quite naturally, are built for trauma,” Esper said. “If you look at our field hospitals, another capability that we’ve offered up as well, or these hospital ships, they’re geared toward wartime trauma — think broken bones and head injuries and lacerations and things like that.”

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Esper said that he’s told some governors that the DOD can “provide a capability that we can deliver on site” or near the site of a civilian hospital in order to open up more rooms for patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

After mentioning that COVID-19 patients require special sequestered rooms, Esper added that he sees the deployment of both Navy ships as “a way of opening up rooms” and “a different approach.”

“We want to make all that available so that we’re doing everything we can to help the American people,” Esper said.

Asked how soon he thinks the hospital ships will be deployed, Esper responded that both are “at a different status at the President’s direction,” but estimated that both should be ready in a couple of weeks and “definitely” before the end of the month.

Watch Esper’s remarks below:

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