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Military hospitals postpone elective surgeries, dental procedures because of coronavirus

Lt. j.g. Katherine Baile, an emergency nurse, screens a patient in at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth's COVID-19 drive-thru screening and triage site on March 20, 2020.

MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST SEAMAN ARIANA TORMAN/U.S. NAVY

By BROCK VERGAKIS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: March 25, 2020

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(Tribune News Service) — Military hospitals will postpone elective surgeries, invasive procedures and dental procedures for 60 days to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus and free up medical staff, space and supplies to meet growing demand as the pandemic continues, according to the Defense Department.

The order takes effect March 31 and applies to active-duty personnel and their families, retirees and their family members, and Reserve Component and National Guard service members on active duty or issued a delayed-effective date active duty order.

Examples of elective procedures include laser surgery, hernia repair, non-emergency back surgery, colonoscopies and joint replacements.

Medical treatment facilities like Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and McDonald Army Health Center at Fort Eustis will continue to conduct surgeries that could save lives and avoid further harm from underlying conditions or diseases, the Defense Department said.

The order by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery also says local commanders can authorize surgeries if they’re required to maintain the deployability of a service member.

The hospitals will continue to provide routine appointments and exams, such as check-ups, specialty consultations and prenatal visits, but each facility may limit that based on demands.

The postponement of surgeries comes as military medical staff across the country are deploying to relieve civilian hospitals that are becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

The San Diego-based hospital ship USNS Mercy left Monday for Los Angeles, where it will treat adults who don’t have the virus.

The Norfolk-based hospital ship USNS Comfort is scheduled to leave for New York within the next two weeks to do the same thing. The Comfort typically draws most of its medical staff from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and has already started taking on supplies.

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