VOA News By Carla Babb
PENTAGON – The head of the Army Corps of Engineers is warning that his team is “beginning to run out of time” to build new temporary hospitals to expand capacity to combat the coronavirus across the country.
Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite told reporters Wednesday that the military needed to start construction of temporary hospital sites “probably in a week” in order to complete them ahead of when the number of coronavirus cases peak.
The Army Corps of Engineers is converting 17 sites nationwide into hospitals, with a total of about 15,000 beds. More than 20 other facilities are pending, which could provide about 8,500 more beds if completed.
Semonite said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as local and state governments, must eventually decide what to do with the temporary hospitals built by the Army Corps of Engineers after the COVID-19 peaks have ended.
The U.S. military could either help break down the temporary hospitals or leave them up to prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak recurrence in fall.
“We’re in this for the short game — this is the ability to get through these curves in the next couple of weeks,” Semonite said. “We’ve got to sit down sometime in the middle of June and July and really figure out … what does America need with respect to excess facilities in the event of a pandemic virus?”
The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Joseph Lengyel, said there are now roughly the same number of Guardsmen across the U.S. battling COVID-19 as are deployed overseas in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions.
More than 28,000 Guardsmen are supporting the response to the coronavirus by manning local testing sites and distributing medical supplies and food. Lengyel said an additional 10,000 will likely be added to the coronavirus response effort in the coming days.
As of early Wednesday, 2,928 coronavirus cases around the globe were related to the U.S. military — 1,975 service members, 422 civilians, 347 dependents and 184 contractors — the Pentagon said. There have been eight DOD-related COVID-19 deaths, including one service member.