The Pentagon is preparing to send a US Navy hospital ship to Seattle and deploy two Army hospital units to separate locations in an effort to assist the US medical response to the novel coronavirus.
The US Navy hospital ship is expected to head to the Seattle area in the next five to 10 days, according to a US defense official. The two active duty Army mobile hospital units, meanwhile, have received “prepare to deploy” orders for to-be-determined locations, according to Army Chief of Staff General James McConville, the Army Chief of Staff.
The USNS Mercy is one of two ships being deployed to help respond to the Coronavirus outbreak, though neither will treat patients suffering from the virus. The ships will be used to treat other illnesses or injuries and free up capacity in civilian hospitals that are expected to be overwhelmed with cases of the virus.
“That is the expectation” the official said. The final destination could always change depending on civilian needs, the official cautioned.
The state of Washington is a hot spot for the virus, with state’s current number of known cases – 1,187 as of Thursday morning – second only to New York state. Washington is where the first US case and the first US death from coronavirus were reported.
The second ship, the USNS Comfort is still weeks away from being deployed to New York. “The Comfort, which is on the East Coast, should be ready in a couple weeks,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday.
Each ship has a capacity for about 1,000 beds but many of their treatment areas are open bays and would therefore be ill-suited to handling potentially contagious coronavirus patients.
Meanwhile, the two Army units would be sent where additional medical beds are needed to treat non-infectious patients, so civilian hospitals can focus on those with the coronavirus. The units receiving orders are the 47th Combat Support Hospital based at Joint-Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state and the 586th Field Hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Both units typically deploy with hundreds of troops, including full surgical and trauma care capability.
In recent years these types of units have made repeated deployments to warzones. It’s not clear yet, if these units deploy, what types of manning levels and medical expertise they will utilize.
The Pentagon has said as they deploy medical units it wants to ensure military bases still have sufficient medical care, and if reservists are called up that local communities are not impacted.
As of Thursday morning, there were at least 10,259 known cases of the novel coronavirus in the United States and 152 deaths from the virus, according to the state and local health agencies, governments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc, Devan Cole and Ryan Browne contributed to this report.