Amid coronavirus concerns Pentagon to send troops to U.S. borders with Mexico, Canada

  • By Tom Bowman and Brakkton Booker/NPR

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee looks at a graph of the latest coronavirus cases for his state and sees reason for hope. The line is still rising, but not as steeply as before.

“It is a glimmer of hope,” he says. “It’s suggestive that some of the things we are doing together is having some modest improvement,” Inslee says.

But for every note of optimism, the governor adds twice as much caution.

“We shouldn’t be be within ten thousand miles of champagne corks on this,” he says. “Because if we do not continue to increase [the downward pressure on the infection rate], a lot of people are going to die across the state of Washington.”

It’s a delicate balance for governors right now, as they try to show the public evidence that the disruption of social distancing is working, without giving people reason to lower their guard.

“It’s way too early to think that we’ve hit the peak here,” says Chris Murray, at the University of Washington. If you’re looking for evidence that social distancing is working, he says, you should look for a flattening in the curve in the number of deaths. And social distancing simply hasn’t been in place long enough in the U.S. to see that.

Two U.S. officials tell NPR that the Pentagon is expected to send 1,500 troops to the nation’s borders with Canada and Mexico to assist Customs and Border Protection operations as the coronavirus death toll tops 1,100 in the United States.

The officials said the plan is to send up to 1,000 troops to the border with Canada to assist Customs and Border Protection as concern about COVID-19 increases. Another roughly 500 troops are expected to head to the Mexican border to help CBP there, the officials said.

The troops will not perform law enforcement duties but instead help in areas such as planning and logistics, much as they did under President Trump’s orders during the influx of Central American migrants.

The troop deployments come on the heels of the Trump administration’s announcement last week suspending nonessential travel between U.S. and Mexico.

“The United States and Mexico have agreed to restrict nonessential travel over our shared border,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Friday.

That suspension went into effect on Saturday, three days after Trump ordered a partial closure of the nation’s northern border to help stem the spread of the deadly virus. The president tweeted on March 18 that trade with Canada “will not be affected” by the temporary border closing.

Prior to the Pentagon’s announcement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the development during a Thursday press conference from Ottawa. He said his administration had been “in discussions” with the U.S.

“Canada and the United States have the longest, unmilitarized border in the world,” Trudeau said. “And it is very much in both of our interests for it to remain that way.”

Trudeau was also pushed on safety concerns for Quebec and Ontario. Those provinces border the state of New York which leads the U.S. in confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths. The prime minister demurred when asked if Canada would impose a ban on goods or people traveling from there.

“Part of protecting Canadians is ensuring a good supply of food, of medical supplies, of necessary equipment across our border,” Trudeau said. “We will continue to look for ways to make sure we’re keeping Canadians safe, while providing us with the things we need.”

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Canada has roughly 3,800 confirmed coronavirus cases; Mexico has more than 470 confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has more than 80,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,100 COVID-19 related deaths.

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