The U.S. military is deploying hundreds more troops to the country's southern border amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to protect the nation from potentially infected migrants, according to the commander of U.S. Northern Command.
"As we look at trying to peel off the external potential for COVID exposure to our U.S. citizens, there's actually an increased demand signal, not a decreased demand signal, for securing the southern border," General Terrence O'Shaughnessy told reporters Wednesday.
Lieutenant General Laura Richardson, the commander of the U.S. Army component of Northern Command, said 540 additional troops would deploy to the southern border with Mexico "very soon," without elaborating.
Meanwhile, in Guam, the Navy is working to evacuate the bulk of the nearly 5,000 sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, in an effort to clean the ship after a large COVID-19 outbreak.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told reporters Wednesday that 93 of carrier's sailors had tested positive for the coronavirus, with seven testing positive without showing symptoms. Only about 25 percent of the carrier's sailors have been tested so far, he added.
About 1,000 personnel have already been evacuated, with plans to have about 2,700 off the Roosevelt in the next couple of days, but Modly stressed that the Navy "cannot and will not remove all sailors from the ship."
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday said about 1,000 sailors would need to remain on the ship to maintain its "critical functions" and weapons. The carrier has a nuclear power plant on board, along with munitions and aircraft.
Earlier this week the Roosevelt's captain wrote a letter of concern to his superiors urging them to take "decisive action" to prevent deaths from the coronavirus.
"We are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily," Navy Captain Brett Crozier wrote in the letter first obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The massive, 1,000-bed Navy hospital ships Mercy and Comfort have together only started treating a handful of patients, despite the Mercy's arrival in Los Angeles several days ago and the Comfort's arrival in New York Harbor on Monday.
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O'Shaughnessy told reporters that the small number was actually "good news" because it showed the military had arrived at the locations "early" and "ahead of need."
Field hospitals have been deployed to New York City and Seattle, with others soon to deploy to New Orleans and Dallas. The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan was transformed into a temporary hospital capable of receiving more than 2,500 patients, with the first arriving there earlier this week.
More than 17,000 National Guardsmen are deployed across the country, with several assisting with supply and testing distribution, assessing symptoms of patients and administering COVID-19 tests.
As of early Wednesday, 1,343 coronavirus cases around the globe were related to the U.S. military - 771 service members, 273 civilians, 225 dependents and 74 contractors - the Pentagon said. One U.S. service member, one defense contractor, one spouse and two Defense Department civilians have died from the virus.