Skip to main content

Military Health System

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

Image of Hospital personnel treating a patient on a stretcher. 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:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Coronavirus & the MHS Response | 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...

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 07 - July 2022

Report
7/1/2022

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Surveillance trends for SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory pathogens among U.S. Military Health System Beneficiaries, Sept. 27, 2020 – Oct. 2,2021; Establishment of SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance within the MHS during March 1 – Dec. 31 2020; Suicide behavior among heterosexual, lesbian/gay, and bisexual active component service members in the U.S. Armed Forces; Brief report: Phase I results using the Virtual Pooled Registry Cancer Linkage system (VPR-CLS) for military cancer surveillance.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 06 - June 2022

Report
6/1/2022

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Hospitalizations, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Ambulatory visits, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, re¬serve component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, recruit trainees, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Medical evacuations out of the U.S. Central and U.S. Africa Commands, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, deployed active and reserve component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, non-service member ben¬eficiaries of the Military Health System, 2021

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 05 - May 2022

Report
5/1/2022

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Sexually transmitted infections, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2013–2021; Evaluation of ICD-10-CM-based case definitions of ambulatory encounters for COVID-19 among Department of Defense health care beneficiaries; The association between two bogus items, demographics, and military characteristics in a 2019 cross-sectional survey of U.S. Army soldiers; Surveillance snapshot: Tick-borne encephalitis in Military's Health System beneficiaries, 2012–2021.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 04 - April 2022

Report
4/1/2022

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Exertional heat illness at Fort Benning, GA: Unique insights from the Army Heat Center; Update: Heat illness, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Update: Exertional rhabdomyolysis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2017–2021; Update: Exertional hyponatremia, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2006–2021

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 03 - March 2022

Report
3/1/2022

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Malaria, U.S. Armed Forces, 2021; Obesity prevalence among active component service members prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, January 2018–July 2021; Brief report: Refractive surgery trends at tri-service refractive surgery centers and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, fiscal years 2000–2020; Brief report: Using syndromic surveillance to monitor MIS-C associated with COVID-19 in Military Health System beneficiaries; Surveillance snapshot: Medical separation from service among incident cases of osteoarthritis and spondylosis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016–2020

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 02 - February 2022

Report
2/1/2022

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Diagnosis of hepatitis C infection and cascade of care in the active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2020; A new approach to categorization of ocular injury among U.S. Armed Forces; Surveillance snapshot: Health care burden attributable to osteoarthritis and spondylosis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016–2020

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 29 No. 01 - January 2022

Report
1/1/2022

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Description of a COVID-19 Beta variant outbreak, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA, February–March 2021; COVID-19 and depressive symptoms among active component U.S. service members, January 2019–July 2021; Surveillance snapshot: Lengths of hospital stays for service members diagnosed with sepsis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2011–2020.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 012 - December 2021

Report
12/1/2021

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Osteoarthritis and spondylosis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016–2020; Incident COVID-19 infections, active and reserve components, 1 January 2020–31 August 2021; Surveillance snapshot: Donovanosis among active component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2011–2020

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 11 - November 2021

Report
11/1/2021

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Cold weather injuries, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2016–June 2021; Brief report: The challenge of interpreting recurrent SARS-CoV-2 positive tests among military service members, Fort Jackson, SC, 2020–2021; Surveillance snapshot: History of COVID-19 vaccination among Air Force recruits arriving at basic training, 2 March–15 June 2021; Surveillance snapshot: Influenza immunization among U.S. Armed Forces health care workers, August 2016–April 2021

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 10 - October 2021

Report
10/1/2021

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Cold weather injuries, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2016–June 2021; Brief report: The challenge of interpreting recurrent SARS-CoV-2 positive tests among military service members, Fort Jackson, SC, 2020–2021; Surveillance snapshot: History of COVID-19 vaccination among Air Force recruits arriving at basic training, 2 March–15 June 2021; Surveillance snapshot: Influenza immunization among U.S. Armed Forces health care workers, August 2016–April 2021

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 09 - September 2021

Report
9/1/2021

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Cross-sectional analysis of the association between perceived barriers to behavioral health care and intentions to leave the U.S. Army; Is suicide a social phenomenon during the COVID-19 pandemic? Differences by birth cohort on suicide among active component Army soldiers, 1 January 2000–4 June 2021; Brief report: Gender differences and diagnostic correlates of aggressive behaviors among active component sailors; Surveillance snapshot: A simple model estimating the impact of COVID-19 on lost duty days among U.S. service members; Update: Routine screening for antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus, civilian applicants for U.S. Military Service and U.S. Armed Forces, active and reserve components, January 2016–June 2021

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 08 - August 2021

Report
8/1/2021

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Long-acting reversible contraceptive use, active component service women, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016–2020; Oral cavity and pharynx cancers, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2007–2019; The evolution of military health surveillance reporting: a historical review

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 07 - July 2021

Report
7/1/2021

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Long-acting reversible contraceptive use, active component service women, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016–2020; Oral cavity and pharynx cancers, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2007–2019; The evolution of military health surveillance reporting: a historical review.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 06 - June 2021

Report
6/1/2021

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: The cost of lower extremity fractures among active duty U.S. Army soldiers, 2017; Early identification of SARS-CoV-2 emergence in the Department of Defense via retrospective analysis of 2019–2020 upper respiratory illness samples; Brief report: Medical encounters for snakebite envenomation, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016–2020; Department of Defense mid-season vaccine effectiveness estimates for the 2019–2020 influenza season.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 05 - May 2021

Report
5/1/2021

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2020; Hospitalizations, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2020; Ambulatory visits, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2020; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, reserve component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2020; Surveillance snapshot: Illness and injury burdens, recruit trainees, U.S. Armed Forces, 2020; Medical evacuations out of the U.S. Central Command, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, 2020; Morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, deployed active and reserve component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2020; Absolute and relative morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries, non-service member beneficiaries of the Military Health System, 2020.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 23
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 20, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery