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Heart of Utah: Two Navy doctors from Utah describe pandemic service

WASHINGTON — Two Utah doctors who responded to the call of duty during the pandemic as members of the Navy Reserves are looking back on a year of COVID-19 in the United States. 

Utah doctors answer the Navy call

Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, honored Ogden Dr. Michael Hall on the House floor for his service during the COVID-19 pandemic on the floor of the US House of Representatives just over a week ago. 

 

Hall joined the Navy Reserves in September 2019, and found his services required even before he finished training. The lieutenant commander went to New York City in April 2020 to care for patients with COVID-19. 

“‘OK, well, I’m an orthopedic surgeon,'” he remembers pointing out.

utah navy doctors detail pandemic service

Dr. Michael Hall, a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserves, spent about six weeks in New York City assisting with medical care because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo provided by Dr. Hall.

He and a group of other surgeons found themselves caring for ventilated ICU patients for the first time in 18 or 19 years. 

“So we all, you know, kind of just jumped in and did it,” Hall said. 

Ultimately, Hall wound up spending six weeks in New York, away from his family and his practice in Ogden. 

“I need the horsepower” 

Hall was one of two Utah doctors with a Navy tie to answer his country’s call. 

Around the same time, Dr. Mark Moritz, a Rear Admiral in the Navy Reserves and a doctor at St. Mark’s Hospital, got a phone call from the surgeon general of the Navy. 

“And he says, ‘Mark, how’s your practice? How are things going in Utah?'” Moritz remembered. “He said, ‘If you’re COVID essential to your community, I don’t want to pull you. But if you’re not COVID essential, being a podiatrist,’ he said, ‘I could absolutely use you.’ And I thought to myself, ‘A foot doctor in the COVID? How’s this going to work?’ And he goes, ‘I need you as an admiral — I need the horsepower.'” 

A monumental task

utah navy doctors detail pandemic service

Dr. Mark Moritz, a rear admiral with the US Navy Reserves, served as task force commander over COVID-19 testing for the US Navy at the height of the pandemic, ensuring the safety of sailors on ships all over the world. Photo provided by Dr. Moritz.

The next thing he knew, Moritz was working with the CDC and the Department of Defense as the task force commander in charge of COVID testing for the entire United States Navy. 

Their number one task: keeping sailors safe on ships all over the world. 

“We had to figure out very quickly how to get these sailors on board ships treated, isolated, tested and safe — and keep our national security at the utmost of our concern during a pandemic,” he said. 

Moritz stayed in Washington for several months. 

“Who would have ever thought that the pandemic, the pointy end of the spear, would be Navy medicine in our next war, and all of us line officers have spent our careers looking for, ‘How are we going to respond to war?'” he said. 

Utah Navy doctors: anyone can serve

Hall says he will never forget the warm welcome he and the other doctors received from the people of New York City. 

“They would lean out their buildings and bang pots and pans, saying, ‘Thank you.’ For us, that moment was sort of an affirmation of — OK, at least we showed up,” Hall said. “And they were grateful for us.” 

Hall says anyone and everyone can and should serve their communities as best they can. 

“Do something,” he advised. “Everybody can do something, and it doesn’t need to be something big and something that shows up, you know, on a newspaper … It should be something small every day that we – we can – we just make it a part of our lives and that becomes our legacy to our families and to people around us. And then, in those small ways, maybe the world does change, you know?” 

A year after the beginning of the pandemic, Moritz says he sees signs of hope. 

“We’ve been through those kinds of things. They might not have been pandemic, more epidemic in nature, but we eradicated polio from the United States because we took our medicine. If we can wait long enough to take our medicine and get through this, there’s a brighter day coming,” Moritz said. “I believe we could lessen the restrictions, and that’s going to be up to all the state leaders and the health departments to decide, the governors and everybody, when they can open up.. But I can already see that — that light at the end of the tunnel coming.” 

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