Army Secretary McCarthy, high-ranking officials tour Detroit's TCF COVID-19 hospital

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Several high-ranking Army officials on Wednesday toured the field hospital at the TCF Center and spoke on the importance of excess capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Joseph Martin toured the converted 970-bed facility alongside Sen. Gary Peters and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, Democrats who both sit on their chamber's respective Armed Services committees.

Gen. Joseph M. Martin, U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff,  speaks about the alternate care facility for COVID-19 patients at the TCF Center in Detroit with Sen. Gary Peters and Rep. Elissa Slotkin on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

Conversion of the 250,000-square-foot facility was completed through a partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Michigan National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Healthcare workers are staffing the center thanks to a partnership between Henry Ford Health System, McLaren Health Care, Beaumont Health and the Detroit Medical Center.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Detroit exceeds 8,000 and 733 residents have died, the city announced Wednesday. 

There's still a lot of empty beds and "that's a sign of success," said Peter, D-Bloomfield Township.

"That means the efforts that we are taking as a state right now, to be able to, hopefully, bend that curve down and make sure that we don't see the increase of infections," he said. "The social distancing we're engaged in and the stay at home policies... makes a difference in our ability to be able to take control of the spread of this disease.

"Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer certainly is committed to making sure that we continue to pursue policies that keep us safe and prevent facilities like this from having to be used."

Gen. Joseph M. Martin (left), U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff,  bumps elbows with Rep. Elissa Slotkin at the alternate care facility for COVID-19 patients at the TCF Center in Detroit  on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

Earlier in the morning, the team visited a sterilization facility that's being constructed by Michigan Tech University along with the National Guard before seeing the architecture of the TCF Center and how it's operating.

"We have units like the one (TCF Center) we just met with in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and they're falling in on existing infrastructure and supporting medical service personnel all over the country," McCarthy said. "They're doing a remarkable job, but at the end of the day it's the collaboration of municipal state and federal assets that are going to get us through this."

The U.S. Army has 191,000 people deployed worldwide, including 29,000 guardsmen across the country. McCarthy said 2,000 members of the Corps of Engineers assessed more than 1,100 facilities around the country.

Martin, a Dearborn native, said they're collaborating across the world on what can be done to prevent and detect the virus in the future.

"We get a daily COVID-19 taskforce report and yesterday's read number was 89. Do the math and see how long we've been collaborating," said Martin, who had coney dogs delivered before heading out.

Sen. Gary Peters (center) arrives for a news conference after a tour of the alternate care facility for COVID-19 patients at the TCF Center in Detroit on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

McCarthy said Slotkin and Peters were instrumental in passing the largest recovery funding act in the history of the country and touted Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan saying their swift actions and collaboration with first responders to prevent the spread was "extraordinary."

"You can feel it when you walk into this place," McCarthy said. "And it was a team that came together and three weeks of discussions, but really was nine days. Nine days. We haven't seen efforts like this come together like that since World War II."

Slotkin said she has written a letter on providing $500 billion in federal aid directly to towns and cities across the country as a lifeline for small businesses. To do so, they will be working with mayors, especially those who are already looking at major layoffs, she said.

"I am very pleased to see that the president and the administration have said positively that the next bill we tackle will be how we're going to support our states and our local cities and towns," Slotkin said. 

Also on the tour was Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Maj. Gen. Paul D. Rogers, Adjutant General and Director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and Col. Paul J. Kremer, Deputy Division Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"We can't deal with this crisis if we're not dealing with it, united and bringing everybody together," Peters said.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_