Defense Department to provide 5 million masks to help slow virus outbreak

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Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that his department will provide 5 million N95 respirator masks to the American public, with 1 million “immediately” in order to help slow the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

During a Tuesday afternoon press briefing, Esper addressed additional contributions that the military can make to ease the burden on medical facilities.

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“Five million N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment from our own strategic reserves,” Esper said, would be made available from his department’s reserves to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) for distribution. “The first 1 million masks will be made available immediately.”

Esper also said that 2,000 “deployable ventilators” will be made available.

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Addressing a request from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make the Army Corps of Engineers available, Esper said he was open to this, but said it would likely be more efficient for state and local agencies to handle matters.

“The Corps of Engineers does not build projects -- they contract others to do the projects. So my hunch is it will probably be quicker if it’s done at the state or local level,” he said. “Nevertheless I don’t mind offering up the Corps of Engineers.”

Later in the day, Esper told Fox News' Bret Baier on "Special Report" that he spoke to Cuomo and said that he would deploy members of the Army Corps of Engineers to New York "soonest."

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Esper did say that the U.S. military could be of help in terms of handling certain cases to allow hospitals to focus their attention and resources on coronavirus. For example, he said the military could set up a field hospital that would treat trauma patients next to a general hospital that would treat patients for COVID-19.

Esper went into greater specifics regarding resources his department will provide later in his interview with Baier.

"We are making available our field hospitals and our hospital ships as they become available," he said, adding that nearly 2,000 National Guard troops have been activated in 18 states.