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Soldiers, sailors, airmen sent to help FEMA with COVID-19 response in Texas and California

About 740 military personnel were dispatched to Texas and California after the Federal Emergency Management Agency requested Defense Department assistance in tamping down the coronavirus pandemic that has once again surged in those states and forced governors to reconsider their reopening plans.

Military personnel from the Army, Air Force and Navy will be operating under the direction of U.S. Army North, the land component for U.S. Northern Command.

The latest deployments, which include both medical and support personnel, mirror those that wrapped up in New York and New Jersey in May, as well as Washington state in April.

“We are committed to assisting those in need as part of the ongoing whole-of-America response to COVID-19,” said Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, Army North commander, in a statement. “At the same time, we remain flexible and capable of providing other defense support to civil authorities as necessary.”

Approximately 160 military personnel from the Air Force are supporting FEMA in California. But the majority of troops — roughly 580 people — will be assigned to Texas, where the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has overburdened hospitals and medical staff in recent weeks.

The personnel heading to Texas began arriving last week. Some of them were members of the Army’s Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces — 85-soldier medical units that can support low-acuity patients and include administrative staff, infectious disease and preventive medicine specialists, nurses, respiratory therapists and other medical experts.

Other soldiers came from the 627th Hospital Center out of Fort Carson, Colorado, which was also previously activated this spring to set up a makeshift hospital in Seattle. That unit was returned to Fort Carson in April.

The Navy also allocated a 44-person acute care team and four rapid rural response teams with seven sailors each to be deployed in other locations across Texas.

Many of the military personnel are heading to Houston and San Antonio, according to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which are among the state’s most heavily impacted urban areas.

Local hospital systems have been strained by the pandemic, limiting the number of beds and staff available for COVID-19 cases and patients seeking treatment for other illnesses or trauma injuries.

Abbott recently rolled back some of Texas’ reopening plan and limited elective procedures in some of the state’s biggest cities in an attempt to conserve hospital capacity, according to the Texas Tribune. Abbott also warned that another economic lockdown may be implemented if the trend continues.

There are an estimated 124,659 active COVID-19 cases in Texas, according to the state’s health and human services department.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has also backtracked on some reopening plans. On Monday, Newsom ordered the closure of indoor businesses across his state, which included bars, zoos and movie theaters, as COVID-19 cases surged there as well.

COVID-19 cases have also spiked among military personnel recently. Defense officials attributed the rise to increased testing and to the lifting of shelter-in-place orders in some areas.

More than 4,100 service members have tested positive for COVID-19 since July 1, according to Pentagon statistics reported by Military Times Friday. That is a rise of about 33 percent in the last 10 days and is more than twice the rate of growth nationwide during the same period.

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