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Pentagon to contribute masks and ventilators to coronavirus response

Defense Department to donate equipment & test kits

Washington — The Defense Department will provide the Department of Health and Human Services up to 5 million respirator masks and up to 2,000 deployable ventilators to assist with the response to the coronavirus, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday.

During a press conference at the Pentagon, Esper laid out several steps the department is taking to bolster the federal government's efforts to address the deadly virus, which has already claimed the lives of 100 Americans. 

Esper said the 5 million N95 respirator masks, as well as other personal protective equipment, will come from the Pentagon's strategic reserves, and the first 1 million masks will be made available immediately.

The ventilators, meanwhile, differ from their "civilian equivalents," and will require special training to operate.

"We are committed to supporting HHS's requirements in any way we can," he said.

Demand for masks has skyrocketed as countries reported more and more cases of the coronavirus, of which there are more than 5,800 reported cases in the U.S. alone. Public health officials have also warned of a shortage of ventilators needed to help patients fight the coronavirus.

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In this illustration dated February 26, 2020, protective N95 face masks lie on a table at an office in Washington, D.C. EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images

In addition to contributing masks and ventilators, Esper said the Pentagon has made its 14 certified coronavirus testing labs available to test civilians and plans to do the same at two more labs. The Defense Department is also considering activating the National Guard and Reserves to help states as they work to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

"In my conversations with governors and members of Congress about DOD's resources, I've made it clear that we will continue to support the administration's comprehensive efforts and the country every step of the way while ensuring the nation's security remains the top priority of the Department of Defense," he said.

Esper has also directed the Navy to ready two hospital ships, one in Norfolk, Virginia, and another in San Diego, for deployment, and suggested military field hospitals can also be set up next to local civilian hospitals to bolster their resources and allow more focus on those with the coronavirus.

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