WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden is highlighting the federal government’s efforts to “surge” military medical personnel to help overwhelmed medical facilities weather the spike in coronavirus cases and staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Starting next week, 1,000 military medical personnel will begin arriving to help mitigate staffing crunches at hospitals across the country. Many facilities are struggling because their workers are in at-home quarantines due to the virus at the same time as a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases. The new deployments will be on top of other federal medical personnel who have already been sent to states to help with acute shortages.
Biden delivered remarks Thursday morning on the “surge response” to COVID-19.
Speaking at the White House, Biden acknowledged that, “I know we’re all frustrated as we enter this new year” as virus cases reach new heights. But he insisted that it remains “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
On Tuesday, Janet Woodcock, the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, told Congress that the highly transmissible strain will infect “most people” and that the focus should turn to ensuring critical services can continue uninterrupted.
“I think it’s hard to process what’s actually happening right now, which is: Most people are going to get COVID, all right?” she said. “What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function — transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens.”
Biden was joined on Thursday by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who recently recovered from his own case of COVID-19, and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. They planned to spotlight the work of the more than 800 military personnel who have been helping civilian hospitals since Thanksgiving and the more than 14,000 National Guard members whose work supporting vaccinations, testing and caring for patients is being covered by the federal government.
The White House said the trio spoke with federal personnel who are already on the ground in Arizona, Michigan and New York to hear about their experiences.
Biden also announced that six additional military medical teams will be deployed to Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.
R.I. Gov. Daniel J. McKee said he sent a letter to FEMA several weeks ago requesting emergency medical personnel to provide direct support to local hospitals.
“I am encouraged that President Biden has announced that Rhode Island will receive a team of FEMA emergency medical personnel arriving over the next couple of weeks,” he said in a statement. “I thank the president for recognizing the crucial need in Rhode Island and stepping up to ensure we were included as one of six states receiving this vital support.”
According to McKee’s office:
• A 23-person Department of Defense medical team will arrive as early as the end of next week to support Rhode Island Hospital in its emergency department and/or medical/surgical unit. They will be stationed there for 30 days.
• A 14-member National Disaster Medical System medical team will arrive as early as next week to support Kent hospital in its emergency department and/or medical/surgical unit. They will be stationed there for 14 days.
The White House said the teams will support Henry Ford Hospital just outside Detroit, University Hospital in Newark, the University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Cleveland Clinic and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.
(ADDS PARAGRAPHS 13-15 with details on R.I. hospitals. Providence Business News contributed to this report.)
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