Andrew Cuomo coronavirus military
Why governor wants to use military to fight coronavirus
01:59 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Tuesday the department will make 14 certified coronavirus testing labs available to test civilians and donate five million medical masks to the Department of Health and Human Services for distribution as hospitals deal with an influx of patients during the pandemic.

Esper said at a briefing that of the five million N95 masks – which health care workers wear to treat infectious diseases – one million will be made available “immediately.” He also said the department is prepared to distribute up to 2,000 ventilators “as needed.”

Two additional coronavirus testing labs would soon be offered by the department, Esper said.

In addition to the masks, ventilators and testing labs, Esper said the department is “considering activating National Guard and reserve units to assist states with planning, logistics, and medical support as needed.”

“In my conversations with governors and members of Congress about DOD’s resources, I’ve made it clear that we will continue to support the administration’s comprehensive efforts and the country every step of the way, while ensuring our nation’s security remains the top priority” of the department, the secretary said.

The moves come as the country’s hospitals grapple with a dwindling supply of medical equipment as the number of coronavirus patients continues to increase. Earlier Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence urged construction companies to donate construction-grade N95 masks to local hospitals and forgo additional orders as hospitals work to procure masks for healthcare workers.

Health experts also say there is a serious need for more respirators and ventilators to deal with the influx of coronavirus patients.

Esper said during his briefing that “when you look at the numbers of people that are projected that may need ventilators, 2,000 doesn’t put much of a dent into it, but we can offer what we have.”

President Donald Trump said Monday afternoon that he advised state governors to obtain ventilators and respirators “without having to go through the longer process (with the) federal government.”

Trump also said on Tuesday that he was “starting the process” of having the US Army Corps of Engineers assist New York in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, an action sought by the New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, in order to get help to build hospitals to alleviate the burden on civilian hospitals.

As the outbreak has spread, politicians including Cuomo and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden have asked why the military has not been doing more to help. On Monday, the Pentagon said it “is ready and willing to support” US civilian authorities but suggested any assistance would involve trade-offs.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were at least 5,359 known cases of the novel coronavirus in the US and at least 100 deaths from the disease, according to state and local health agencies, governments and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.