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US Military Deploys Hospital Ships for Coronavirus Response 

The USNS Mercy, a Navy hospital ship, is seen docked at Naval Base San Diego, March 18, 2020.

The U.S. military will deploy two U.S. hospital ships to free up medical professionals and beds needed for coronavirus patients.

The USNS Comfort is undergoing maintenance in Norfolk, Virginia, and will deploy to New York Harbor in the coming weeks.

The USNS Mercy, at port in San Diego, "will be prepared to go much sooner" than the Comfort and will deploy somewhere yet to be determined on the West Coast "in days, not weeks," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Wednesday.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, has placed some active duty units on alert to potentially deploy and build field hospitals in areas across the country, according to Joint Staff Surgeon Gen Paul Friedrichs. But officials have stressed that these defense resources are designed to help with combat casualty care, not infectious disease patients.

“They don’t have necessarily the space, the segregated spaces, you need to deal with infectious diseases,” Esper told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon. “So, one of the ways by which you could use either field hospitals, the hospital ships or things in between, is to take the pressure off of civilian hospitals when it comes to trauma cases, is to open up civilian hospital rooms for infectious diseases.”

The Air Force also is flying coronavirus testing supplies to high-need areas, according to Air Force Chief Gen David Goldfein.

The Pentagon says as of early Wednesday, at least 89 coronavirus cases across the globe are related to the U.S. military — 49 service member cases, 14 civilian cases, 19 dependents and seven contractors.