The Pentagon has instructed bases and installations not to reveal the specific number of coronavirus cases affecting soldiers so as not to give potential enemies an advantage as the number of military-linked infections surpasses 1,000.
A spokesperson for the Department of Defense said that figures indicating the number of soldiers infected with the virus will be released to the media, but those figures will not be broken down specifically to each base.
‘If a commander believes that COVID-19 could affect the readiness of our strategic deterrent or strategic response forces, we understandably protect that information from public release and falling into the hands of our adversaries – as we expect they would do the same,’ Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman told NBC News on Monday.
As of Monday morning, 633 active military service members tested positive for coronavirus.
The Pentagon has directed all military bases and installations around the world not to provide the number of coronavirus cases. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is seen right next to President Trump in Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday
Marine Corps Pfc. Brandon Shim guides an ambulance toward the terminal leading to the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy in Los Angeles on Sunday
Of those, 64 had recovered and 26 were hospitalized.
The Pentagon says there were no deaths.
The Defense Department said that 220 civilian employees tested positive, as did 190 dependents and 64 contractors.
One contractor and one dependent died from the virus.
Last week, the US military decided it will stop providing some of the more granular data about coronavirus infections within its ranks out of concern that the information might be used by adversaries as the virus spreads.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper outlined the plan in an interview with Reuters, saying that he wanted the military to keep providing broader data about infections in the armed forces, which boasts well over one million active service members.
He also banned all troop movement overseas for 60 days to curb the spread of the coronavirus as cases among U.S. service members multiplied.
The freeze will affect 90,000 service members including those who were set to leave Afghanistan as part of a peace deal with the Taliban.
The US Defense Department has issued a 60-day freeze to troop deployments to aid in further prevention of the spread of the coronavirus as cases jump
U.S. sailors man the bridge of USS Boxer, just one of the U.S. warships hit by the coronavirus
The largest increase in military cases has been seen in the United States but there are thousands more US military personnel in quarantine or in self-isolation in Europe and the Middle East due to exposure to a person with the coronavirus or recent travel to a high-risk area.
Esper, a former Army secretary, said he wanted some of the more mission-specific information to be withheld to prevent compromising operational security.
‘What we want to do is give you aggregated numbers. But we’re not going to disaggregate numbers because it could reveal information about where we may be affected at a higher rate than maybe some other places,’ Esper said, without disclosing precisely what information would be withheld or when the plan would be implemented.
The military has a small number of infections compared to its one million-plus forces but until now the locations of individual cases have been provided, including the first case in a US soldier in South Korea in February.
‘I’m not going to get into a habit where we start providing numbers across all the commands and we come to a point six, seven weeks from now where we have some concerns in some locations and reveal information that could put people at risk,’ Esper said.
‘The rate of infection and its impact is not hitting us at the levels that we have any concerns about right now,’ he added but noted that releasing information about troops overseas was dangerous for the safety of those in the fight against al-Shabaab in East Africa as well as Islamic State militants in Syria or Afghanistan.
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Ernesto Santa Ana, right, and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Maria F. Potts-Szoke work in Naval Medical Research Center’s mobile laboratory aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, where 38 cases of the coronavirus were confirmed on Monday
Sailors prepare surgical equipment to be sterilized aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy which docked at the Port of Los Angeles last week
Last Tuesday, the Navy revealed they had changed their policy to no longer supply information on which ship positive sailors serve on after over a dozen cases were discovered on various warships based in San Diego.
The policy said it would will now ‘only release the number of positive cases and the geographic location of those sailors’.
The largest increase in troops has been seen within the U.S. with 85 percent of cases in the Air Force based at home.
Esper did not confirm that the threat of the coronavirus was greater for troops based at home than overseas but commented on it being easier to control the actions of troops and their families who are stationed outside of America.
’You have far, far, far greater control of your service members when you’re deployed abroad, even when you’re stationed abroad, than you do back in the United States,’ he said.
The number of those in quarantine and self-isolation has also not been revealed amid claims that it is not something the military want ’to advertise’.
’If advertised, numbers can be used by adversaries to their advantage,’ said Air Force Colonel Christopher Karns, a spokesman at the U.S. Africa Command.
U.S. Navy sailors lower a larne target from the fantail of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt last week before four sailors were airlifted from the ship with the coronavirus
U.S. Navy sailors participate hang targets during a small arms qualification aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. All 5,000 personnel aboard will be tested for the coronavirus
The US headquarters overseeing operations in Afghanistan reported last Tuesday that four service members who recently arrived in the country had tested positive for the virus and were placed into a separate quarantine.
As the Pentagon institutes a freeze on troop movements, exceptions will be granted to those needing medical treatment and Navy ship deployments if they will be in transit for 14 days.
‘The purpose is to make sure that we’re not bringing the virus back home, infecting others, that we’re not spreading it around the military,’ Esper told Reuters.
The Pentagon froze domestic travel for service members, civilian employees and their family members until May 11 earlier this month.
The news also comes as a total of 38 cases were confirmed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, currently underway in the Pacific, after three people were airlifted from the ship last Tuesday.
The ‘Big Stick’, with its crew of 5,000 sailors, pulled into port in Guam on Friday, where it is supposed to undergo a rigorous disinfection.
Four patients were airlifted out for treatment at a medical facility in Guam as the number of cases on the ship rose.
Aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt where 23 cases on the coronavirus have been found as the ship is now forced to dock in order to test all 5,000 personnel onboard
Two Kenya Port Authority boats can be seen in front of the Wasp class amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. Now based in San Diego, coronavirus cases have been confirmed on the ship
The warship is now forced to dock to test all 5,000 on board despite the Navy previously banning all ships from going into port to prevent any further infections.
There are only 800 tests on board and limited testing ability.
‘We found several more cases on board the ship. We are in the process now of testing 100 percent of the crew of that ship to ensure that we’re able to contain whatever spread might have occurred there,’ Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said from the Pengaton Thursday.
However, Admiral Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, is adamant that the carrier will continue with its operations.
Once at port the crew will not be permitted to leave the carrier.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt was deployed from San Diego in January to the western Pacific.
On March 5, it made a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam, a country where there were known coronavirus cases. At that time, the number of cases in the country was low and all were in the northern part of the country away from the port.
‘At that time, there were only 16 positive cases in Vietnam, and those are well to the north all isolated in Hanoi,’ said Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday.
‘So this was a very risk-informed decision by the (Indo-Pacific) commander, Adm. Davidson, on whether or not we proceed with that port visit.
‘We took great precautions when the crew came back from that shore visit, and did enhanced medical screenings of the crew.’
U.S. Marines walk down a removable Trident Pier leading to an American ship docked near an Emirati military base home to a Military Operations and Urban Terrain facility in al-Hamra, United Arab Emirates on Monday despite the global new coronavirus pandemic
Colorado National Guard medical personnel prepare to perform coronavirus test on a motorist at a drive-thru testing site outside the Denver Coliseum Saturday, March 14, in Denver
Gilday added that it is not certain the sailors contracted the virus in Vietnam as other personnel regularly fly on and off the carrier while at sea.
Extra precautions had also been taken to protect the crew in Vietnam such as limiting self-service in the ship’s chow hall and screening sailors coming back on board for illness.
Sailors live within close conditions on the ship in staterooms and berthing spaces.
The number of cases in the US has rocketed over the last two weeks
People are asked to leave six feet between themselves and other people to prevent the spread of the virus which would be next to impossible in the crowded quarters.
‘They are beefing up their cleaning stations,’ Cmdr. Myers Vasquez, a spokesman for the Pacific Fleet, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
‘Across the fleet, (ship commanders) have been looking at best practices and implementing them. Everyone’s following what (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance is and putting those into effect.’
Port visits across the Pacific fleet have been called off and ships have been ordered to stay at sea for 14 days to isolate sailors.
‘We canceled, I think, every port visit, with the exception of ships that need to pull in for maintenance or resupply. In those cases, when you pull in, (sailors) are limited to the pier,’ Gilday said.
On March 13, the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, currently in port in San Diego, reported one of its personnel had tested ‘presumptive positive’ for the virus. A second cases on board was confirmed a few days later.
And a sailor aboard the Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado, also in San Diego, tested positive before the Navy changed their policy and are now no longer confirming which ship positive sailors serve on.
They will now ‘only release the number of positive cases and the geographic location of those sailors’, according the Military.com.
The virus has spread to at least a dozen serving on US warships in San Diego.
Testing is also being conducted on the amphibious assault ship USS America and the 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge, both based in the Pacific.
Ships can be difficult to protect during an outbreak as seen with the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess cruise ships which became coronavirus outbreak centers earlier this year.
In 2019, a mumps outbreak aboard the USS Fort McHenry infected 28 people despite efforts to quarantine the infected and disinfect the ship from the vaccine-preventable disease.
There is no current vaccine for the coronavirus.
The US. military is already on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus in the US as Navy hospital ships are deployed to New York and California.
‘The Department of Defense has been at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus since the early days of our nation’s response effort,’ wrote Esper in an op-ed for Fox.
‘In January, we provided housing at March Air Reserve Base in California to assist the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in caring for hundreds of State Department employees, dependents and U.S. citizens who were evacuated from Wuhan, China.
‘Our contributions and efforts to the interagency’s response has only grown since then, as we simultaneously took major steps to ensure the safety of our military personnel and their families.’
Esper has been criticized, however, for not doing more earlier on to prepare the Defense Department to protect its own forces and to assist in the federal response.
On Wednesday, he cautioned that the U.S. military is not positioned to deploy nearly enough medical resources to address the scale of the coronavirus outbreak
The US Naval Ship Mercy enters the Port of Los Angeles on Friday to provide aid to the local hospital system as the number of coronavirus cases rises
U.S. National Guard members stand beside crates of medical supplies at the Jacob Javits Center on Monday in New York. New York City hospitals are just 10 days from running out of ‘really basic supplies,’ Mayor Bill de Blasio said late Sunday of the coronavirus crisis
The coronavirus is taking a growing toll on the U.S. military, and commanders and senior officials are bracing for worse.
From nuclear missile fields at home to war zones abroad, from flight lines to ships at sea, the Pentagon is striving to shield vital missions even as it faces urgent calls for help on the civilian front.
Training exercises big and small, including one of the largest in Europe since the end of the Cold War, have been curtailed.
Army recruiting stations have closed. Troops around the globe are hunkering down to confront an enemy unlike anything the world’s most lethal armed forces have encountered before.
‘It’s unprecedented in my lifetime,’ Esper said, adding that he believes that ‘in a period of months’ the worst will be over and the force will once again be ‘fully mission capable.’
Until then, the ramifications of COVID-19 for the military are likely to expand. There are worries, for example, about the defense industry being weakened and key weapons development slowed.
The US Naval Ship Comfort enters New York Harbor on Monday. New York City has seen the highest incidences of coronavirus in the country
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that in a worse-case scenario, the military will lose some of its preparedness for combat and other missions.
But the impact is likely to be ‘moderate to minor to low in terms of its risk’ to national defense, he told reporters on Monday.
‘I’m just not in a place right now where I can give you an accurate description of what that’s going to look like,’ he said.
The Pentagon budget also is taking a hit, although a coronavirus relief bill working its way through Congress would provide billions for the growing list of new expenses, including loans to industry that would enable accelerated production of medical equipment like ventilators and respiratory masks for civilian needs.
Many of America’s closest allies are waging their own COVID-19 battles, including Britain, Germany, Italy, France and other NATO partners, as well as South Korea, which hosts about 28,500 U.S. troops.
At least temporarily, the pandemic has taken the edge off conflict in some of the globe’s major flashpoints, such as Iran, as governments focus on fighting the disease inside their own borders.
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