Army Orders All Medical Units to Prepare for Possible Response to Virus Outbreak

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The 41st Medical Detachment prepares for an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise,
FILE PHOTO -- The 41st Medical Detachment from Fort Campbell, Ky. performs a layout in preparation for an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise, Oct. 18, 2019. (U.S. Army/Beverly Roche, 40th Public Affairs Detachment)

The Army's chief of Staff said Friday that the service has asked every medical unit to assess their capabilities in the event that they are needed to respond to areas hit hard by the potentially deadly novel coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week, the Army gave two combat support hospitals (CSH) -- one at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Washington, and the other at Fort Campbell, Kentucky -- a "prepare to deploy order" as the U.S. government wrestles with how best to help communities if the spread of COVID-19 intensifies, Gen. James McConville told reporters at the Pentagon.

He said the Army has also given a "warning order to all our Role 3 hospitals," facilities staffed and equipped to provide care to all categories of patients, to include resuscitation, initial wound surgery, specialty surgery and post-operative care.

"Every [medical] unit in the United States Army has been told to take a look at their capabilities and capacity so they can come back to us," he added.

Related: Virus Outbreak Begins to Delay Units' Army Combat Training Center Rotations

McConville said that if a request comes in for a CSH to deploy somewhere in the country, the service might not send the one that was alerted at JBLM because the personnel may be needed in Washington state for COVID-19 response.

"Right now, the [doctors assigned to the CSH], they work in [civilian] clinics, they work in hospitals," he said. "As we stand up these hospitals, we say, 'Hey, what is the impact on the community if we take these people out of the hospitals?'

"We canceled a combat training center rotation for the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team because that is a National Guard brigade from Washington, and really the soldiers come from Washington and California. And we are anticipating that the governors may need them," he explained.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said the CSH facilities are designed to treat trauma cases, so it's unclear whether they would have to be reorganized and equipped to better deal with an infectious disease such as COVID-19.

The CSH is designed as a field hospital with tents, which may not be the best environment to treat serious cases of the virus, McConville added.

"We look at some of these field hospitals. They are in tents -- that may not be the best place [for COVID-19 patients]," he said. "We are in the United States. ... What we are looking for here is the capabilities that we have."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Read More: The Return of M*A*S*H: Army Corps on Standby to Build Tent Hospitals, White House Says

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