WASHINGTON, D.C. — Wednesday, the nation’s top military leaders gathered to address the public to announce the invocation of the Defense Production Act (DPA) and the elevation of the state of emergency to FEMA’s highest level, Level 1. FEMA is now deployed to every part of the country.
President Donald Trump compared the efforts being asked of Americans to that of wartime. Harkening back World War II, Trump cited how dedicated ship builders would sleep on factory floors. “The ‘unseen enemy,’” said Trump using a wartime analogy, is COVID-19, and “it snuck up on us.” The analogy introduced his rationale for using Korean War-era legislation granting governmental authority over certain American manufacturers and distributors for the purpose of national defense. The implication is these companies may need to hire more employees and may need to work around the clock to be able to produce enough masks, respirators, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to equip hospitals and other health facilities during this national emergency. To accomplish this, the Act also empowers companies access to legal and financial advantages to make accomplish any goals the government assigns. Trump indicated he will be visiting the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 by talking with nurses; they may be dealing first-hand with existing PPE medical supply shortages the DPA hopes to rectify.
The president also used this opportunity to vehemently deny a rumor he said was circulating in China that COVID-19 originated from American soldiers. While the disease may have originated in China, China’s new infection numbers have been failing. Business Insider announced Wednesday no new domestic cases appeared in China for the first time since the outbreak began; in a turn of events, all their new cases were reported instead as people entering from abroad.
Vice President Mike Pence explained HHS issued a directive today enabling all doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines assisting hospitals dealing with this health emergency. “If every American will do their part, and embrace and put into practice” principles outlined in the ‘15 Days to Slow the Spread’ guidance recommendations, “we can significantly limit the reach the Corona virus in the weeks and months ahead,” Pence emphasized. Nationally, physical and human resources need to be directed where they are needed most, so all elective medical and dental procedures should be delayed.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper assured the public, “the United States military remains ready and capable of defending the country and our interests abroad.” DoD’s coronavirus efforts are focused on three strategic priorities: “first, protecting our personnel and their families; second, safeguarding our national security mission capabilities; and third, supporting the administration’s ‘whole of government’ approach.” Esper said the Department of Defense is prepared to release from military stockpiles up to 5 million N95 masks (with the first 1 million masks available immediately), additional PPE equipment, and 2 million ventilators. These items will be made available to HHS for distribution. He mentioned that Fort Detrick is working on vaccines and therapies. 16 military labs will be able to supplement commercial labs to process incoming COVID-19 tests arriving from around the nation. Two 1,000-bed U.S. Navy floating hospital ships, the Comfort and the Mercy, will be deployed to the East Coast and West Coast, respectively. The ships’ destinations make sense because the states of Washington and California on the West Coast and New York on the East Coast are leading the nation’s morbidities.
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as of 12:10 p.m. Thursday, there were 9,415 COVID-19 cases in the U.S., of which 150 died in 22 states: 68 in Washington, 16 in California, and 20 in New York. Since 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, more than 1,646 new cases were reported and 32 additional deaths occurred.
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, said Trump’s directive to him was clear: take “aggressive” measures to do “everything imaginable” to protect our veterans. It is the V.A.’s job to manage the potential exposure to the virus by 9.5 million veterans who depend on the VA’s 170 hospitals, 19 newly-established emergency operations centers, as well as 7,800 acute care veterans residing in the V.A.’s 135 community living centers.
“Our veterans have been put in the toughest spots in the world. They have been put in conditions that are unimaginable to most Americans. They have responded clearly and with passion,” said Wilke. The 400,000 members of our department who are out there on the front lines … work in the most noble profession in the federal government,” said Wilke.
Regarding the implementation of these COVID-19 mandates, Wilke said, “I think we have set the pace for the entire country … . We have been in a better place than most health care systems in the country.” Of the hundreds of veterans tested, 44 tested positive, including one veteran in Cleveland, Ohio. One veteran in Portland, Oregon died.
Beyond caring for the health needs of veterans, the V.A. is also tasked with an additional mission.
“[We] support the federal government in times of natural disasters and pandemics. We are the ‘buttress force’ in case FEMA or HHS calls upon us to deploy medical professionals around the country,” Wilke said.
What exactly does a Level 1 FEMA status mean? According to FEMA’s website, support at this level means the demands upon government resources is unprecedented: “The capabilities to support it do not exist at any level of government.” To help overcome these limitations an “extreme amount of direct Federal assistance” will be needed, requiring “full staffing” that engages “all emergency functions and interagency liaisons.”
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.