The U.S. military is deploying an additional 540 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to assist Border Patrol agents handling migrants who may be COVID-19 positive, U.S. Northern Command announced Wednesday.
There are roughly 5,000 U.S. troops serving at the U.S.-Mexico border assisting the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
As the U.S. deploys troops, hospital ships and other military assets across the U.S. to combat the rapidly spreading COVID-19, Gen. Terrance O’Shaughnessy, the commander of U.S. NORTHCOM told reporters Wednesday that there was also an “increased demand signal” for support to help secure the southern border over COVID-19 concerns.
Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, the commander of U.S. Army North, said that the additional 540 U.S. troops would help Border Patrol with newly granted authorities.
Those new authorities allow Border Patrol agents to apprehend and immediately return migrants potentially infected with COVID-19.
Richardson said the increase in support to the border was specially related to COVID-19 concerns.
U.S. Northern Command has been assisting with COVID-19 relief efforts across the country, most notably New York City and Los Angeles where two U.S. Navy hospital ships have recently ported to help take on non-COVID-19 patients.
A 450-person Navy medical unit has been put on “prepare to deploy” orders to ship out to Texas and New Orleans over the next several days to help aid in COVID-19 relief efforts, U.S. Northern Command announced Monday.
The hospital ship USNS Mercy arrived in Long Beach, California, Friday and has received its first patients Monday, according to a news release. Both ships have the capacity to aid about 1,000 patients boasting about a dozen operating rooms and 80 intensive care unit beds, according to a release.
The USNS Comfort departed Norfolk, Virginia, Saturday and arrived in New York on Monday.
The two ships have only started seeing a handful of patients — about 12 aboard the Mercy and one aboard the Comfort.
O’Shaughnessy told reporters that the small handful of patients was good news because the ships arrived early ahead of the need.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.