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Hundreds More Troops Surveilling Border Amid COVID Pandemic 

FILE - In this April 17, 2018 file photo, Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Hundreds more U.S. troops are now manning dozens of new surveillance sites at the country’s southern border, according to the commander of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), as the U.S. mainland continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 40,000 Americans.

About 540 newly-deployed troops are providing surveillance at 60 additional mobile sites used to inform Customs and Border Patrol officers about border crossings, NORTHCOM head Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said Tuesday, adding there are no plans to deploy additional troops to the border at this time.

Speaking to reporters earlier this month, O’Shaughnessy said the latest deployment was to help “seal off” the nation from potentially infected migrants.

“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.

The military is now running 217 mobile surveillance sites along the southern U.S. border, a NORTHCOM spokesman told VOA.

The troop increase brings the total number of U.S. military forces deployed to the border to about 5,000, according to NORTHCOM.

A U.S. Army official told VOA the number deployed to the border is now roughly the same as it was during the December 2019-January 2020 timeframe, before the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division completed its deployment there and returned home.

“I wouldn’t characterize this as a spike,” said another U.S. defense official.

U.S. Navy Sailors prepare to transport a patient arriving for medical treatment from an ambulance onto the hospital ship USNS Comfort in New York City, April 9, 2020.
U.S. Navy Sailors prepare to transport a patient arriving for medical treatment from an ambulance onto the hospital ship USNS Comfort in New York City, April 9, 2020.

Meantime, there are more than 54,000 Department of Defense personnel deployed to help in the response to coronavirus, according to the Pentagon. Nearly 4,200 medical personnel are deployed in hotspots from New Orleans to Detroit and Los Angeles to New York City — the American city that’s been the hardest hit by the pandemic.

O’Shaughnessy said the military has deployed 500 medical personnel to 10 local New York City hospitals. Fifty medical personnel from the Navy hospital ship Mercy have been redeployed across the country to the USNS Comfort to help with the high acuity patients aboard the ship docked in New York Harbor. Remaining USNS Mercy staff will continue to provide medical care to the Los Angeles area.

As of early Tuesday, 5,575 coronavirus cases around the globe were related to the U.S. military — 3,496 service members, 902 civilians, 757 dependents and 420 contractors — the Pentagon said. There have been 22 DOD-related COVID-19 deaths, including two service members.

Over the weekend, the military extended its “stop movement order,” originally set to expire on May 11, to June 30. The order has impacted exercises, deployments, and permanent moves for troops, known as permanent change of station of PCS.

“This is a necessary measure to keep our people safe and our military ready,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last week.

It is unclear how many service members will be affected by the order extension, but the Pentagon said about 90,000 service members were likely impacted by the original order. Exemptions to the order include certain mission deployments, recruiting, and travel authorized by the head of a diplomatic mission.