The Biden administration has directed the Defense Department to ready 1,000 military medical professionals for deployment to U.S. hospitals as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 takes hold across the country.
According to the White House, military doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical personnel will prepare for mobilization as needed in January and February.
They will be joining roughly 240 personnel already deployed in seven states. Teams of 20 Army, Navy and Air Force members are working in 12 hospitals in Indiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and New Mexico.
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Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that the DoD is working with the Department of Health and Human Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine where the service members may be needed and has not yet decided which units will be tasked with the mission.
He added that they likely will be active-duty personnel.
"Right now, we're still sourcing the requirement, and we're working with interagency to do that appropriately. Then, of course, warning orders and alerts will go out to the services," Kirby said.
The U.S. military took on a significant role in the response at the start of the pandemic, setting up field hospitals across the country in anticipation of medical facilities becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
The services established and manned a hospital facility at the Javits Convention Center in New York City; sent the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy to New York City and Los Angeles; set up field hospitals in Seattle; and ran field hospitals in convention centers in New Orleans and Dallas.
Many of the facilities -- namely the hospital ships and field hospitals -- saw little use. DoD officials later found that deploying military personnel to relieve exhausted health workers in established civilian hospitals was most effective in ensuring that the country's medical system remained viable.
"Since COVID began, our military medical personnel have been committed to fighting the pandemic and supporting our local, state and federal partners and communities in need," said Lt. Gen. John Evans, U.S. Army North commander, in a press release. "As we look ahead to the holiday season and 2022, we must remain vigilant in our fight. ... We must keep in our thoughts the service members and healthcare professionals on the front lines."
The U.S. appears to be in a rising fifth wave of the pandemic, with cases up 20% in the last two weeks. Since February 2020, the U.S. has logged more than 51 million cases of COVID-19 and 808,093 Americans have died.
In anticipation of the increase, the Biden administration announced steps Tuesday to assist states, including establishing medical surge facilities in Louisiana and adding hospital beds to locations in Maryland and California.
The federal government also will expand access to free tests, purchasing half a billion at-home tests and establishing new federal testing sites, including the first in New York City to open this week.
Administration officials said they are concerned because the Omicron variant of the virus is highly transmissible, and more than 40 million Americans remain unvaccinated.
"The unvaccinated are eight times more likely to be hospitalized and 14 times more likely to die from COVID," a senior administration official said during a call with reporters Monday.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Defense Department has tallied more than 400,000 cases of COVID-19 among military personnel, civilian workers, family members and contractors, including 258,800 cases in U.S. troops.
Of those cases, 625 people have died, including 80 service members, 382 civilian employees, 34 dependent family members and 129 contractors.
Cases within the Department of Veterans Affairs have topped 400,000 as of Tuesday including patients and employees. More than 17,467 veterans in the VA Health System have died from the illness, as have 237 employees.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
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