President Donald Trump announced today that he had approved activating the National Guard in California, New York and Washington state to allow governors more flexibility in carrying out missions to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
His administration is also sending a massive Navy hospital ship to the Port of Los Angeles in an attempt to take the strain off local hospitals dealing with COVID-19 patients, federal officials said in a Sunday afternoon news conference.
Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the federal government will be funding the full cost of deploying the National Guard units to “carry out approved missions to stop the virus” while the governors remain in command, Trump said.
“This action will give them maximum flexibility to use the Guard against the virus without having to worry about cost or liability, and freeing up state resources to protect the health and safety of the people in their state,” Trump said. Officials emphasized this was not martial law and said that misinformation has already been swirling about the decision.
In addition, the USNS Mercy hospital ship will be deployed to the Port of Los Angeles to “add emergency surge medical capacity,” Trump said.
FEMA Director Peter Gaynor said the Mercy and its 1,000 hospital beds could arrive off the coast of Los Angeles within the week.
The ship won’t be used for treating COVID-19 cases, instead taking other patients to ease the pressure on local hospitals, which local officials said were already nearing capacity.
“Across the entire County of Los Angeles, there are under 200 ICU beds available,” County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a March 20 letter to the president. “Nearly 90% of our ICU beds are already occupied by current patients who do not have COVID-19 but are still in dire need of hospitalization and treatment.”
The government has also deployed hundreds of tons of supplies from its national stockpile to locations with greatest needs, the president added Sunday.
California’s request for a major disaster declaration is expected to be approved “very quickly, maybe tonight” after Trump approved New York and Washington’s requests. Medical supplies are also on their way to these states, including respirators, surgical masks and other personal protective equipment.
Trump said he has also directed FEMA to supply eight large federal medical stations with 2,000 beds as well as—at a smaller scale—to New York and Washington.
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