The Pentagon says it will provide up to 5 million respirator masks from its strategic reserves to the Department of Health & Human Services to help in the response to the coronavirus pandemic, Secretary Mark Esper said during a briefing Tuesday.
"The first 1 million masks will be made available immediately," Esper said.
The Pentagon will also offer up to 2,000 deployable ventilators, but the machines are different than those used by civilians and would require training before being used, Esper said. He noted that the U.S. government would need to seek support on procuring more ventilators.
“When you look at the number of people that are projected that may need ventilators, 2,000 doesn’t really put much of a dent into it. But we can offer what we have,” Esper said.
“The key thing is the private sector, the manufacturing side," he added. "because we are simply not going to be able to meet the demand if the demand fits some of the profiles as we’ve seen the CDC brief,” he said.
Esper also said he is “willing” to deploy Army Corps of Engineers after a request from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to make them available, but added that it would be more efficient for state and local agencies to handle the situation.
"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".
Esper added that the U.S. military could help in terms of handling certain cases to allow hospitals to focus their attention and resource on the coronavirus, such as setting up a field hospital to treat trauma patients next to a general hospital treating patients for COVID-19.
Esper plans to speak with governors to address their needs by possibly getting the National Guard involved, but stressed that it would take weeks to do so and that it would have to be balanced by the needs of local areas.