Army troops deployed to New York City in April were ordered home on Thursday, May 27 as COVID-19 cases have decreased throughout the city. The daily number of COVID-19 deaths went from 500 on April 5 to less than 100 as of May 29.
Troops from all around the country helped civilian staff at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, and the Lincoln Center in the Bronx for more than six weeks. The Army Reserve had dispatched task forces to each of these centers that included preventive medicine and infectious disease specialists, nurses, administrative staff and other medical specialists.
Lieutenant Aykhan Alibayli was one of those volunteers working on administrative tasks and testing in the Lincoln Center from April 12 until May 27.
“Initially when we were there, the hospitals were overwhelmed and didn’t have enough staff,” he said.“The nurses were working seven days a week non stop, so we were there to help them fill in their roles. But now that infections are low, they’re transitioning back to normal operation.”
According to Alibayli, the hospitals are switching some of their floors from intensive care units (ICUs) back to medical surgical floors and clinics.
Despite the exposure, all of the members of the 85-soldier task force in the Lincoln Center tested negative for the virus.
“[The negative test results] probably show you that the proper hygiene and PPE usage does in fact work because we were right there in a COVID infested area.“All the patients were COVID-positive patients, so the fact that none of us got sick shows you that if you use the proper precaution you would be safe,” said Alibayli, who also tested negative for the virus.
Major Theresa Simard who worked as a doctor in one of the ICUs in the Lincoln Center said she was sent home because the situation at the care facility is significantly better now. She attributed the decrease in cases to social distancing and the city lockdown. However, now that the cases have decreased she believes it is safe for the city to start slowly reopening.
“If enough people can just keep it together, wear their masks, maintain social distancing and be respectful of the desease, we can go to stores, go shopping. We just can’t be on top of each other,” Simard said.
Joining military and civilian medical workers during a pandemic was an unprecedented effort. It was a complex operation as the Army, Navy, Air Force and U.S. Public Health Corps had to all be deployed almost at once. Alibayli said that in the event of a resurgence, the military will be better prepared to confront the pandemic.
“I think this time around the Army has a lot of lessons learned,” he said.“Because previously, we’ve never really done an exercise like that. I think the closest one was Katrina, but even then it wasn’t really a public health epidemic. But I think this time around, it was a good experience for us to really understand better in the future, how to deploy resources and utilize them in a quicker and more efficient way.”