Thousands of Army, Navy and Air Force health care providers have surged to New York City since late March, to help keep the country’s hardest-hit area from being overwhelmed by a need for hospital beds and medical staff. So far, the thousands of beds provided by a converted convention center and a hospital ship have not been needed, but the extra personnel are coming in handy for the city’s civilian hospitals.

About 200 doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and others are working in New York’s medical centers, where bed space has not been overwhelmed, but where hospital-acquired coronavirus cases have sidelined civilian staff.

“Every day we seem to on-board another hospital with a different sister service,” Capt. Joe Kochan, executive officer Operational Health Support Unit Portsmouth in Virginia, told Military Times April 14. “As it stands right now, we’re really pushing out into the hospitals to address their needs.”

Kochan’s unit is one of several, including the Army’s 9th Field Hospital and Air Force’s 927th Aerospace Medical Squadron, who are on manning the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and surging into local hospitals.

Teams of sailors are now running their own intensive care space in some hospitals, Kochan said, while others are providing extra hands to regular operations.

“We have the ability to scale up to whatever the demands are, based on the needs of the city or any particular mission that is required,” Lt. Col. Leslie Curtis, the 9th Field Hospitals chief nursing officer, told reporters.

In addition to stationing themselves in hospitals, there are teams going out on missions to support emergency response, Curtis said, more than two dozen teams at this point.

Officials could not say how many of their personnel had contracted coronavirus since arriving in New York.

“Those numbers are being tracked, but I can’t comment on that,” Col. Jennifer Ratcliff, who commands the 927th Aerospace Medical Squadron, told Military Times. “We’re in the hospital, so unless it’s happened to someone on my team, I’m not aware of those numbers.”

In any case, Ratcliff said, health care workers are taking every precaution to stop the spread, donning the same complement of personal protective gear for each patient, whether that person is specifically being treated for COVID-19 or not.

“We’re treating everyone as if they’re COVID positive,” she said, because it’s safer to assume, given the tens of thousands of cases in New York City. “It’s more likely that someone is COVID positive than COVID negative.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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