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States ask Trump to deploy military to help fight coronavirus pandemic
March 20, 2020
US defense secretary has said authorities are considering activating military to assist with planning and medical support
As coronavirus continues spreading across the US, local and state leaders have found themselves pleading for federal authorities to deploy military assistance to help them fight the pandemic.
The New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, who said on Friday on MSNBC that there were now 4,000 cases across the five boroughs, comprising 30% of US coronavirus cases, begged Donald Trump to deploy federal military assistance.
“If they got the order this hour to mobilize and get resources to the places in this country that are suffering, they would give it their all and they have the best logistical capacity of any organization in America,” De Blasio said on Morning Joe.
“They have [an] extraordinary group of medical personnel and material and supplies that they can put on the ground, they know how to do it in a war. I assure you they can do it in their own country. But the order has not been given by the commander-in-chief, because he’s not acting like a commander-in-chief. He doesn’t know how. He should get the hell out of the way and let the military do its job.”
Within two to three weeks, De Blasio has warned, the largest US city will soon run out of many medical supplies – and needs 3m N95 masks, 50m surgical masks, 15,000 ventilators, and 25m each of surgical gowns, coveralls, gloves and face masks.
In a New York Times op-ed, the New York state governor, Andrew Cuom, asked Trump to mobilize the US military to cope with strains on healthcare facilities.
Governors in at least 27 states have mobilized portions of the army and air national guard to fight coronavirus, calling up more than 2,000 guardsmen to “state active-duty status”,Military Times reported.
The Trump administration has said it is considering federal-level authorization – which could help states with medical support and planning – but has not done so.
Mark Esper, the US defense secretary, said earlier this week that authorities were “considering activating national guard and reserve units to assist states with planning, logistics and medical support as needed”.
On Thursday, the Council of Governors told Esper in a letter: “We urge the administration to authorize the use of national guard members” in a way that allows state governors to maintain operational control while receiving federal funding.
This governors’ group does not want the kind of federal authorization that would strip governors of operational control. Federalization would give control of the national guard to the Department of Defense and the president.
Whether federal involvement with the national guard will happen remains an open question.
Two military hospital ships, the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy, have been sent to the east and west coasts, respectively.
Josh Michaud, the associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that the US military could assist with domestic coronavirus response at the local and state level, but that there are nonetheless logistical limitations.
State-level national guards are one way, as is releasing supplies such as masks and respirators, and deploying hospital ships, he said.
“I think there’s more that the military could do, certainly,” he said. “They have a lot of different capabilities in terms of logistics and communications.
“You could imagine them supporting things like food distribution … and overseeing supply chains that are important for coronavirus response at a national level,” he said. “That would not put military members at risk of contracting the disease.”