Military responds to Florida COVID-19 battlefront

By Patrick McCallister
For Veteran Voice

Port St. Lucie’s Sgt. Rebecca Trejo is among the almost 27,000 National Guard members activated for COVID-19 response throughout the country. She was featured by the Florida National Guard at its Facebook page in the ongoing “Faces of the Fight” feature. Trejo said she’s excited to be a part of helping fellow Floridians get through this pandemic.

“When our initial rotation was going to end, they asked us if we wanted to go home or volunteer to extend until the operation was over,” she said on the Guard’s Facebook page. “I said I wanted to stay until the end, or until they don’t need me.”

At press time almost 2,300 Florida Guard members are activated in response to the coronavirus emergency. Also at press time, there are almost 16,500 confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida, about 2,200 related hospitalizations, and a little more than 350 known deaths.

A lot of the coronavirus activity in the state is, at the moment, concentrated in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but there are confirmed cases in every county besides Liberty.

State COVID-19 press conference

Gov. Ron DeSantis did the state’s weekly coronavirus press conference in South Florida on Wednesday, April 8. Next to him was Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers. They discussed plans for the Corps to turn the 1.4 million square foot Miami Convention Center into a pop-up hospital.

“We want to protect our healthcare workers who are on the front line and we want to make sure that the healthcare system can absorb what this virus is portending for our communities,” Gov. DeSantis said at the press conference.

He outlined plans for the Corps to build a 450-bed hospital at the convention center that’ll be staffed by almost 190 National Guard members.

“Outside of Miami we have an additional four field hospitals (planned), as the need may be,” DeSantis said. “We have one that’s ready in Broward. Another one that can be stood up very quickly in Palm Beach. And then we’re also looking where on the west coast of Florida and potentially northeast Florida.”

The general said the Army Corps of Engineers has a longstanding relationship with Florida.

“We’ve been working in Florida almost 100 years,” Semonite said. “Emergency response, Everglades restoration, beach nourishment.”

He said the Corps, about three weeks prior to the press conference, had mobilized its response to COVID-19. The Corps realized fast it’d have to be in the hospital-capacity building business.

“We went to all the experts and said, ‘What are the medical requirements?,’” Semonite said.

From that the Corps drafted a pop-up hospital plan it’s now implementing across the nation.  

The general added that converting the Miami Convention Center into a 450-bed hospital — with 50 of those being ICU beds — with the ability to add up to 1,000 more is, unsurprisingly, quite a task. 

“This is a hard build,” the general said. “This is probably a three-week build. We don’t have three weeks.”

Gov. DeSantis has asked the Corps of Engineers to complete the Miami pop-up hospital by April 20.

Adjutant General addresses the troops on social media

Major General James Eifert, the adjutant general of the Florida Guard, is writing to his troops on Facebook. On April 8, he posted:

“More than 700 of you are working at numerous community-based testing sites in South Florida, enabling COVID-19 testing for our citizens

– Over 1,000 of you are providing rapid manpower for emergency operations

– More than 110 of you are working logistics supply chain management to ensure we are readily equipped to complete our various missions quickly and efficiently

– Approximately 75 of you are assisting multiple airport screening missions, protecting the safety of our citizens and visitors as they enter the state

– Over 330 of you are working the command and control function to ensure the fight is on track and our responding forces are taken care of

– We are in the process of bringing nearly 200 FLNG medical professionals on orders to man alternate care facilities as needed.”

He went on to say—

“These numbers increase daily because of what the state asks of you, and they ask it of you because they know you will accomplish it faster and better than anyone else could. This is why the Florida National Guard is the gold standard for how to operate during a time of crisis.”