How the military's role has evolved during the pandemic

Recent focus on vaccine distribution logistics
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Posted at 11:07 AM, Dec 01, 2020

NORFOLK, Va. - The role the Department of Defense has played in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has evolved over the year.

Early on in the pandemic, local service members were called upon to provide relief to areas of the country that were considered hot spots with concentrated infections and fears of cases overwhelming civilian hospital infrastructure.

The Norfolk-based hospital ship USNS Comfort deployed to the New York harbor to provide care as cases surged there.

A military command based at Fort Eustis in Newport News also provided support to field hospitals in New York and New Jersey.

As the pandemic has continued however, the military has not been called upon to provide as much support in that manner.

"The real reason is, number one, the diluted case dispersion around the country. You are not seeing that heavy, heavy load that we saw in the Northeast, northern New Jersey and New York City, where it overwhelmed the medical support systems in place," explained Ken Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security.

"They have essentially developed enhanced treatment capabilities that reduce the amount of time spent hospitalized for individuals. So across the board there are a number of improvements based on experience dealing with the cases, also based on that dilution of the cases per geographic areas where we're not seeing the degree," Rapuano added.

That said, there are still more than 20,000 National Guardsmen deployed across the country providing COVID-19 support.

The Defense Department also has military medical professionals on "prepare-to-deploy" orders where they could be activated if requested through FEMA and Health and Human Services.

Currently, the Defense Department has medical personnel helping in El Paso, Texas, in North Dakota, and in Guam.

Recently the military has been supporting Operation Warp Speed, the government's plan to accelerate vaccine development. The Defense Department has focused on providing logistical support and planning for eventual distribution one vaccines are authorized.