Defense chief Esper: Military focused on supporting 'whole-of-government approach to the coronavirus'

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told "Special Report with Bret Baier" Tuesday that the U.S. military, including the National Guard, is actively seeking ways to help dampen the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I want to assure all of your viewers that the United States military remains ready and capable of defending the American people, protecting the nation and safeguarding our interests abroad," Esper told host Bret Baier at the start of the interview. "In that context, our second focus has been on supporting the president and the whole-of-government approach to the coronavirus."

Esper said he is not looking to install some of the more drastic measures floated by some politicians, like a national quarantine or shelter-in-place order, but added there are field hospitals and a fleet of hospital ships that can be called in to help with any overflow capacity of potential infected patients.

The Pentagon chief also said he spoke with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has repeatedly called for the Army Corps of Engineers to help refit or build new hospitals to manage the outbreak there.

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"I had a call with Governor Cuomo and we had a very good conversation," Esper said. "What he sees is a deficit in hospital beds in New York state as he looks ahead to what may be coming. I gave him my full commitment that we would get the Corps of Engineers up there soonest to assess the problem and see how we can help out."

Respondng to other questions about federal and military involvement, Esper said the National Guard has been activated in 18 states and the floating hospitals are at the ready.

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"Nearly 2,000 guardsmen are available," he said. "Also, we are doing considerable work in terms of our vaccines and therapeutics."

Esper noted that earlier in the day, he had visited Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., the headquarters of the fight against Ebola and Zika and where Army doctors are engaged in "world-class" experimentation in hopes of finding a vaccine or cure for the latest pandemic.

"They are working pretty aggressively to come up with a vaccine for the coronavirus," he said.