Pentagon to give respirator masks, ventilators to HHS

Close-up of sign warning visitors that surgical masks are for patient use only at a hospital in San Francisco, California, following a shortage of masks and N95 respirators during an outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus, March 12, 2020. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday that the Pentagon will provide 5 million respirator masks and 2,000 specialized ventilators to federal heath authorities to help in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Esper told Pentagon reporters that the ventilators are designed for use by deployed troops and the military will need to train civilians on how to use them. He said some may have “single-use” limitations. And he said the first million respirator masks will be made available immediately.

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U.S. officials have talked about the shortage of ventilators to help treat patients with the virus.

Esper also said he has asked the Navy to prepare hospital ships for deployment. He said the Pentagon will also talk with state and local leaders to see if there is any need for field hospitals.

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He said the field units could be used to take the pressure off local hospitals, by locating them nearby and using them to perhaps treat trauma patients. Doing so, he said, could free up hospital rooms so they could be used for infectious patients.

The Pentagon has said its hospital ships and field units are designed for combat and have areas where multiple patients are together in one room. As a result, they aren't set up to handle patients who need isolation.