Top Army officials praise Michigan leaders during tour of field hospital in Detroit

Pvt. Brandon Banks from the 1434th Engineering Company, and the Michigan National Guard assisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency with logistics support to establish a field hospital at Detroit's TCF Center, April 9, 2020.


By BILL LAITNER | Detroit Free Press | Published: April 23, 2020

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DETROIT (Tribune News Service) — In downtown Detroit, where TCF Center — formerly the Cobo Convention Center — is now a field hospital built by U.S. soldiers, the nation's Army leaders praised Michigan for its fast response to COVID-19 after touring the site Wednesday.

"It was really the leadership of Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer and Mayor (Mike) Duggan together with the Army Corps of Engineers" that constructed the temporary hospital in TCF Center faster than similar efforts anywhere in the country — "nine days," Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said.

"We've not seen efforts like this since World War II," he said, adding that the nation's massive efforts to thwart the spread of the novel coronovirus were "buying us the time to get this vaccine done — we're gonna get it, and we're gonna win."

McCarthy spoke after touring the TCF field hospital with two U.S. lawmakers from Michigan, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly. McCarthy called the two lawmakers "instrumental in passing the largest funding act" to finance the Army's nationwide response to the crisis.

Although the TCF facility has 1,000 beds, only 17 patients were being treated there last week. McCarthy declined to say how many were being treated this week, and media members were not allowed to view the hospital. According to the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which is administering the TCF site, as of Wednesday afternoon there were 16 patients there, the site has treated 33 patients and 16 have been discharged.

Although some health experts have said that a second wave of the novel coronavirus could sweep the nation this fall, McCarthy would not say how long the field hospital should stay in place at Detroit's convention center.

"That's up to Michigan," he said.

The mayor of Georgia announced that his state will reopen many businesses Friday, including gyms and hair salons. Michigan's stay-at-home order expires May 1, but Whitmer says she will likely seek some kind of extension.

Peters said that "there are still a lot of empty beds (and) I take that as a sign of success" for Michigan's shelter-in-place policy.

On the way to Detroit from Metro Airport, the visitors from Washington stopped in Taylor to visit a Michigan Army National Guard arsenal. There they viewed an experimental mass sterilizer built this month by engineers at the Upper Peninsula's Michigan Technological University in Houghton. Peters said he was "working in Congress with Representative Slotkin" to obtain emergency approval for the six-ton device from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

If approved, and tests show that it works, the sterilizer — equivalent to a jumbo oven — could be replicated inexpensively around the country, its designers have said. Their goal is to provide for mass sterilization of personal protective equipment, or PPE, so that that items in short supply can be re-used.

In response to the Free Press, Slotkin spoke of her Made in American Medical Supply Chain Initiative, a bill that she said would prevent a future shortage of PPE.

“A lot of what we’ve been needing is coming from overseas, specifically China, and we haven’t been able to get this — I talked to one of my Brighton firefighters today" about the shortage of PPE, Slotkin said.

"In a crisis like this, you don’t want to be dependent on foreign sources (and) whether China’s suppliers are willing to sell to us. I’m saying, take the same Pentagon rule about ‘buy in America’ and just apply it to this protective equipment," she said.

After the tour, Peters, together with U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, issued a news release calling on President Donald Trump "to waive all cost-share requirements for states responding to the global Coronavirus pandemic."

Their request would remove a 25% match now required from the states to qualify for federal assistance to battle the pandemic. Peters said he was urging that the federal cost-share rise from 75% to 100% "due to the scale of the ongoing public health crisis and enormous costs associated with recovery efforts." The proposal is supported by the National Governors Association.

Also taking Wednesday's tour of the TCF field hospital was Dearborn native and four-star Army Gen. Joseph Martin, who is vice chief of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff — the multi-service board of generals and admirals that oversees the nation's military commanders.

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