Active-Duty Air Force Teams Deploy to Texas as Fort Bliss Declares Public Health Emergency

Medial professionals in the Army and Air National Guard pose for a group photo at an alternate care facility Miami Beach Convention Center. (Leia Tascarini/Army)
Medial professionals in the Army and Air National Guard pose for a group photo at an alternate care facility Miami Beach Convention Center. (Leia Tascarini/Army)

Three Air Force medical teams are deploying to El Paso, Texas, where area hospitals are overflowing with COVID-19 patients and Army post Fort Bliss has declared a public health emergency.

U.S. Army North announced Friday that 60 medical providers from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi; and Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, would arrive this weekend to assist staff at area civilian hospitals.

Read Next: The VA Needs 8,000 Healthy Volunteers for COVID-19 Vaccine Trials

The teams will work at the University Medical Center of El Paso, the Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus, and the Las Palmas Del Sol Medical Center, according to a release.

In the past several weeks, the pandemic has exploded across the city, where 59,852 residents have been diagnosed with the virus and 657 have died. More than 1,000 patients are hospitalized, and 311 are in intensive-care units, including 174 on ventilators.

The situation has become so dire, a county judge instituted a two-week curfew Oct. 26. El Paso residents are allowed to leave their homes from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. only for emergencies.

"Our hospitals are now at a point where they are overwhelmed and exhausted, and I am left with no choice but to take this next step in hopes of seeing some stability in our community and most importantly to save lives," El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said in a statement.

The city of El Paso had asked William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, a facility that operates jointly with the Department of Veterans Affairs, to take in overflow civilian patients, but that request was denied.

Hospital officials said Oct. 26 that staff was working to transfer any eligible patients -- military dependents, retirees and veterans -- from area hospitals to William Beaumont.

"Along with other medical facilities within the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council regional trauma system, WBAMC remains committed to serving our El Paso community," said Col. Michael Oshiki, the hospital commander.

Fort Bliss on Friday declared a public health emergency that installation officials said will "better posture WBAMC to care for DoD and VA beneficiaries."

WBAMC has transferred some non-COVID-19 patients to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio to prepare for additional patients, and it also is moving non-COVID patients to a temporary ICU set up in the conjoining El Paso Veterans Affairs Healthcare System ambulatory surgery unit.


A WBAMC spokeswoman declined to disclose the number of COVID-19 patients at the facility, citing operational security.

According to VA data, a total of 526 El Paso VA patients have contracted the virus, including 112 with active cases as of Friday. Twenty-four veterans or other VA patients, including one staff member, have died.

The public health emergency at Fort Bliss is in effect for 30 days or until it is terminated or extended.

Texas Gov. Guy Abbott said he is grateful for the Air Force teams deploying to the area to fight the pandemic.

"Our ongoing partnership with the federal government is crucial to our efforts in reducing COVID-19 hospitalizations in El Paso," Abbott said in a release Friday. "I thank the Department of Defense for providing these resources to the El Paso community and for working alongside the Lone Star State to mitigate this virus."

Other units providing support to the community of El Paso include elements of the U.S. Army Reserve's 377th Theater Sustainment Command out of New Orleans and the 4th Expeditionary Sustainment Command out of San Antonio, as well as elements of the 1st Infantry Division's Sustainment Brigade from Fort Riley, Kansas.

"We remain steadfast in our commitment to assist those in need as part of the whole-of-nation response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in support of [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]," said Army North Commander Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson. "Alongside our local, state and federal partners, we will work to mitigate this virus and care for El Pasoans."

As of Friday, nearly 90,000 persons affiliated with the DoD had contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the outbreak, and 111 had died.

The VA has had more than 80,000 cases, including 7,291 currently active. More than 4,100 VA patients have died.

Across the U.S., the number of new cases topped 100,000 for the second day in a row, bringing the number of total cases since the outbreak began to nearly 9.7 million. More than 235,000 Americans have died.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: Military Medical Teams Are Deploying Again to Battle COVID-19

Story Continues