Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Protecting the Force: How the MHS helped sustain readiness in the face of COVID

Image of Hospital personnel treating a patient on a stretcher. Click to open a larger version of the image. Sailors assigned to the hospital ship USNS Mercy treat a patient from Los Angeles medical facilities March 29. Mercy deployed in support of the nation's COVID-19 response efforts, serving a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients. (Photo by Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erwin Jacob Miciano.)

Recommended Content:

Combat Support | Coronavirus | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Readiness Capabilities

Keeping warfighters mission-ready and units online is always the top priority for the Military Health System, something complicated in 2020 by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Even as COVID-19 vaccine distribution begins, the MHS is preparing guidance for 2021 to build on its success in the past year by continuing to prevent the virus from having a significant effect on the readiness of U.S. Armed Forces.

Sustain medical readiness starts with a lack of complacency for health care workers and their supervisors. That mission has been complicated by 10 months of additional stress to the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of frontline service members dealing with the virus, from the steady risk of exposure to worries about spreading the disease to family members. But the basics, such as wearing a mask and social distancing, remain fundamentals in 2021, for MHS workers and anyone in uniform, including those who have received a vaccine. 

Navy Capt. John Rotruck, force surgeon of the III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa, Japan, has witnessed COVID-19 protection and troop readiness measures from two shores of the Pacific Ocean this year.

Captain Rotruck speaking at a podium in front of the USNS Mercy
Navy Capt. John Rotruck, then the commanding officer of the USNS Mercy, speaks to members of the press before the ship departed Naval Base San Diego in March. Mercy deployed in support of the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts, serving as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients admitted to shore-based hospitals. (Photo by Navy Communication Specialist 1st Class David Mora Jr.)

Before his current duty station, he was the military medical treatment facility commanding officer on the hospital ship USNS Mercy, which made port in Los Angeles to serve as a relief valve for civilian hospitals so the city’s health professionals could focus on the COVID-19 cases that were overwhelming the city. The Mercy’s mission was considered defense support of civil authorities, and was led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“MTF and civilian mariners instituted aggressive COVID mitigation measures early on,” Rotruck recalled. This included compliance with the Department of Defense mandatory mask policy, and hand-washing and social distancing whenever possible.

“As we began to experience a few cases amongst the crew, we took aggressive efforts to complete contact tracing and test and quarantine any close contacts, to include exit quarantine testing,” Rotruck said.

The DOD published more than a dozen force health protection guidance documents in 2020, covering many areas to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread within the U.S. Military. This includes guidance for testing, travel, face coverings, re-integrating individuals who recovered from COVID-19 back into their units, proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), how to assess risks at MTFs, and more.

“Installation commanders follow local public health guidance and make sure we have a well-informed force, as evidenced by the behavior they’ve exhibited throughout this pandemic,” said Lernes Hebert, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, at a July press briefing at the Pentagon.

In California, the Mercy had some tricky logistical maneuvering to do, moving many crew members to single hotel rooms off-ship. A tent was set up on the flight deck to provide additional social distancing during meals.

Those measures, though unique to this particular Navy hospital ship, were consistent with triage systems used at MTFs. Under the guidance of public health officers, these systems separated patients with suspected COVID-19 exposure from other patients and providers. Additionally, in the early days of the pandemic, the MHS paused elective and non-essential procedures at MTFs, limiting exposure risk and preserving PPE for COVID-19 patients.

Rotruck said the Mercy was fortunate to have an infectious diseases physician aboard, “with whom we continually consulted. Naval Medical Forces Pacific also deployed a Navy Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine Unit detachment with us, who conducted all of our COVID testing and oversaw our contact tracing.”

All the support was “invaluable” for maintaining the crew’s health, he said.

Meanwhile, Rotruck’s new unit in Japan is keeping an eye on the COVID-19 situation within several populations. 

“As you can imagine, force readiness through force health and preservation is our top priority, so we maintain our ability to respond to crisis,” he said. “We continue to monitor COVID closely both within our [status of forces agreement] population and in the local community, and adjust our force health protection posture accordingly, to maintain that force readiness.”

You also may be interested in...

Printable VAX Fact How Much will the COVID-19 Vaccine Cost?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance

Printable VAX Fact Do I Have to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance

Printable VAX Fact Will TRICARE Cover the COVID Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance

Printable VAX Fact Getting COVID and Flu Vaccine at Once

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance

Printable VAX Fact Where can I get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance

COVID-19 Social Media Toolkit

Publication
1/5/2021

These messages are provided for you to use on your platforms with any of the images from the COVID-19 Toolkit.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

DoD COVID 19 Vaccine Distribution Plan and Population Schema

Publication
12/10/2020

Regarding the initial COVID-19 vaccination rollout, Defense Department officials announced a phased and coordinated strategic plan for distributing and administering the initial COVID-19 vaccines.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Holiday Season Guidance to Minimize Spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019

Publication
11/16/2020

This memorandum provides guidance to help protect individuals within the DoD community from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) for gatherings and activities during the November to January holiday season.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Updated Guidance for Performing Temperature Checks at Military MTFs and DTFs

Publication
10/21/2020

This guidance is an update to Defense Health Agency Return to Full Operations Concept of Operations, V5.0 (June 12, 2020) as it pertains to temperature checks in MTFs and DTFs. Based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), previous guidance directed MTFs to take the temperature of all individuals entering the facility. Effective immediately, temperature checks are not required; however, screening of individuals entering MTFs and DTFs and healthcare personnel on duty in the MTF or DTF is to continue.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Force Health Protection Guidance (Supplement 12) -Department of Defense Guidance for Personnel Traveling During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic

Publication
8/6/2020

This memorandum supplements requirements in references (a), (b), and (c) with respect to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and replaces reference (d). It provides pre- and post­travel guidance for purposes of force health protection (FHP) of Service members, DoD family members, DoD civilian employees, and DoD contractor personnel.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Supplemental Guidance 10 for Military Medical Treatment Facilities and Military Dental Treatment Facilities Directors in regards to Coronavirus Disease 2019

Publication
7/1/2020

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Communication to ABA Providers Regarding Continued Temporary Authorization to Utilize Telehealth for CPT Code 97156 During the COVID-19 National Emergency

Publication
6/3/2020

TRICARE is announcing the continuation of the temporary exception to policy regarding the use of synchronous telehealth (TH) capabilities (both audio and video) for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Family Adaptive Behavior Treatment Guidance services specifically during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | About TRICARE

Force Health Protection Guidance (Supplement 9) -Department of Defense Guidance for Deployment and Redeployment of Individuals and Units during the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic

Publication
5/26/2020

This memorandum provides force health protection (FHP) deployment and redeployment guidance for Service members (including Reserve Component (RC) and National Guard members in a title 10 or title 32 duty status) and DoD civilian employees deploying within and outside the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with references (a) and (b).

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Guidance for Commanders on Risk-Based Changing of Health Protection Condition Levels During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic

Publication
5/20/2020

This memorandum provides guidance for commanders to consider when making decisions to change health protection condition (HPCON) levels as COVID-19 pandemic conditions on and adjacent to our installations begin to improve.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Resuming Elective Surgical, Invasive, and Dental Procedures in Military Medical and Dental Treatment Facilities

Publication
5/19/2020

This memorandum provides guidance on how each Military Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) and Dental Treatment Facility (DTF) may resume elective medical and dental procedures.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus
<< < 1 2 3 4 > >> 
Showing results 31 - 45 Page 3 of 4

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.