Thursday, April 2
PM: As of 5 a.m. Thursday, 893 servicemembers had tested positive for COVID‑19, including 35 who are hospitalized with the disease, 59 who have recovered, and one who has died. Read DoD’s fact sheet, here.
Wednesday, April 1
6:25 PM: The Pentagon is sending Navy destroyers, Coast Guard cutters, and surveillance and reconnaissance assets to South and Central America to boost counternarcotics efforts amid the coronavirus crisis.
Drug cartels are “capitalizing” on the crisis to try to funnel more narcotics into the United States, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said during the daily COVID‑19 briefing at the White House on Wednesday evening.
“We came upon some intelligence some time ago that the drug cartels, as a result of COVID‑19, are going to take advantage of the situation and infiltrate additional drugs into our country,” Milley said.
But neither Trump, Milley nor Esper provided evidence that drug trade has increased with the outbreak. “It’s not that it’s increased,” Trump said of drug trafficking.
Asked how those groups were taking advantage of the crisis, Trump responded, “Because we’re focused on so many parts of the country…We are now focused on so many different things because of what’s happened, that now we’ve gotta focus on drugs.”
Esper said the move reflected “prioritization.” Milley said that it would not prevent the Defense Department from combating the virus.
“We’re at war with COVID‑19, we’re at war with terrorists, and we are at war with the drug cartels as well,” Milley said. “This is the United States military. You will not penetrate this country. You will not get past Jump Street.”
Trump also argued that the deployment was related to coronavirus-control efforts.
“It’ll also have an impact on the virus, because we have people trying to get in,” Trump said.
6:21 PM: Trump said Wednesday that the administration is “seriously” considering building “two new additional hospital ships” of approximately the same size as the USNS Comfort and Mercy, the two Navy hospital ships deployed to Los Angeles and New York to help alleviate the strain on hospitals.
“We’re looking at doing two new additional hospital ships. Because they’ve really struck a blow,” Trump said. “This has really worked out well.”
Also under consideration is retrofitting “another large ship,” Trump said.
The U.S. Navy has been struggling to figure out how to pay for its current plan to reach a 355-ship fleet.
3:38 PM: U.S. Northern Command chief Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy confirmed to reporters Wednesday that additional troops will be deployed to the southern border to address concerns that migrants sickened with COVID‑19 might cross the border into the United States.
The 540 additional troops will deploy “very soon,” according to Army North Commander Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson. The U.S. already has around 5,000 troops at the border in support of the Department of Homeland Security’s operations on the southern border. They do not conduct law-enforcement operations.
Tuesday, March 31
11:09 AM: The Defense Department’s COVID‑19 fact sheet for March 31 reports that one service member, one civilian employee, one dependent, and one contractor have died of the disease, up one person from Monday’s fact sheet.
At 5 a.m., the total number of known DoD cases — currently infected, deaths, and recoveries — was 1,295, up 19% from yesterday.
Monday, March 30
3:10 PM: The U.S. Marine Corps on Monday said it would stop accepting new recruits at its Paris Island, South Carolina, boot camp.
“Amid the national emergency caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and out of an abundance of caution, the Marine Corps is taking steps to protect its recruits, recruit training personnel, their families and the communities where they live and serve by temporarily suspending the shipping of new recruits to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina,” the Marines said in a statement. “Recruit training for individuals already at the Depot will continue as planned, with continued emphasis on personal and environmental cleanliness and social distancing.”
CNN has a bit more, here.
1:32 PM: There were 260 patients with COVID‑19 added to the U.S. military’s confirmed coronavirus numbers over the weekend, per DoD’s fact sheet. The total, 309 on Friday, stood at 569 at 11 a.m. on Monday. Total U.S. Defense Department cases also leapt from 652 Friday to nearly 1,100 today. Two deaths have been recorded.
As well, cases being treated at Veterans Affairs hospitals and facilities more than doubled over the weekend, to 1,166, GovExec’s Eric Katz reports.
Friday, March 27
06:46 PM: Trump on Friday also signed an executive order authorizing Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to call up military reservists for active duty “for the effective conduct of coronavirus disease response.” Esper and Wolf are authorized to order Ready Reserve units and members to active duty for a period “not to exceed 24 consecutive months” and “not to exceed 1,000,000 members on active duty at any one time.” It was not immediately clear how the forces would be used.
Updated at 6:50 p.m.
4:41 p.m.: Trump on Friday officially directed Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to “use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators.”
But it’s not clear that he will actually move to compel GM to accept a federal contract. In his daily press conference on Friday, Trump said: “We thought we had a deal with GM. I guess they thought otherwise. And now they do, they do agree, and I think we might be able to pull it.”
Nine days have passed since Trump first declared that he would activate the DPA “just in case we need it.” But instead of issuing orders to industry, he chose to open negotiations with suppliers, even as governors clamored for key medical supplies and an end to the desperate bidding wars that have drained state coffers
Trump had said voluntary cooperation by private companies had rendered the DPA unnecessary — but his frustration bubbled over in public when negotiations with General Motors stalled over the price tag and the number of ventilators needed.
“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” Trump said in a statement. “GM was wasting time.”
He added in a Friday tweet that General Motors “MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!…FORD, GET GOING ON ventilators, FAST!!!!!!”
GM no longer owns the Lordstown plant.
01:51 PM: Yesterday, there were just three reported cases aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which was ordered to stay in a Guam port and test the entire crew, the Wall Street Journal reports.
12:54 PM: Three more people who work inside the Pentagon tested positive for COVID‑19 on Thursday, according to a read-out from the daily administrative briefing on the building’s coronavirus response obtained by Defense One.
Two of them work in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and had not been inside the building in two weeks. The third is an Air Force contractor who was in the building as recently as March 20.
This follows the Pentagon acknowledgment earlier this week of the first case of a service member who worked inside the Pentagon, a Marine. There have also been positive cases in contractors who worked in and out of the broader Pentagon reservation.
Brussels Forum canceled for 2020
German Marshall Fund has canceled its annual high-powered international policy conference, deciding not to reschedule in 2020. Brussels Forum, which attracts top NATO, EU, and transatlantic leaders from Congress and parliaments — the late Sen. John McCain was a star attraction — already was going to be a smaller affair this year. In 2019, it moved from March to June, but Trump administration officials continued to avoid policy conference stages. On Friday, GMF’s President Karen Donfried wrote in an email to participants, “It is uncertain when the coronavirus will be contained. Societies and economies in America, Europe, and worldwide will be profoundly disrupted for months to come.” Defense One has been a media partner to the event. In 2019, Executive Editor Kevin Baron conducted the keynote interview with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. (Video here.)
Thursday, March 26
10:40 PM: Concerns about COVID-19 has led U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to cancel Exercise Balikatan 2020, which was to have brought together some 11,000 Filipino and American troops from May 4 to 15 in the Philippines.
Read the press statement, here.
9:33 PM: Trump appeared to confirm a report that he is considering sending troops to the Canadian border amid concerns that those crossing the border could be suffering from COVID‑19.
“I’ll find out about that,” Trump said, asked about the reports. “I guess it’s equal justice, to a certain extent,” he said, in an apparent reference to the U.S. troop presence along the southern border.
Trump riffed that U.S. troops were necessary along the Canadian border because “we have a lot of things coming in from Canada.”
“We have some illegal trade we don’t like,” Trump said. “We have very strong tariffs on dumping steel. We don’t like steel coming through our border that’s been dumped in Canada so they can avoid the tariff. You look what’s happened with steel, it’s been pretty incredible.”
11:47 AM: USS Theodore Roosevelt has been ordered into port in Guam after more cases of COVID‑19 were found aboard, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told reporters Thursday morning.
“We found several more cases,” Modly said in a news conference. “We are in the process of testing 100 percent of the crew of that ship.”
“The ship is operationally capable if called upon to do so,” he said, “but we are pulling the ship into Guam. Nobody from the ship will be allowed to leave the ship other than on the pier.”
Navy Times has more, here.
Wednesday, March 25
5:39 PM: The U.S. Army is “reaching out to gauge the interest of our retired officers, noncommissioned officers and Soldiers who would be willing to assist with the COVID‑19 coronavirus pandemic response effort should their skills and expertise be required,” Lt. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands, deputy chief of staff for personnel, wrote in a Thursday afternoon email.
“If interested and you remain qualified to serve in any of the following health care specialties: 60F: Critical Care Officer; 60N: Anesthesiologist; 66F: Nurse Anesthetist; 66S: Critical Care Nurse; 66P: Nurse Practitioner; 66T: ER Nurse; 68V: Respiratory Specialist; 68W: Medic - we need to hear from you STAT!
“If you are working in a civilian hospital or medical facility, please let us know. We do not want to detract from the current care and treatment you are providing to the Nation.”
Read the full email, here.
01:51 PM: Military teams that monitor foreign missile and warplane threats to the United States are isolated at a number of military sites, including Cheyenne Mountain, the Cold War-era bunker in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the head of U.S. Northern Command, said Tuesday.
“To ensure that we can defend the homeland despite this pandemic, our command and control watch teams here in the headquarters split into multiple shifts and portions of our watch team began working from Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, creating a third team at an alternate location as well,” Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, said during a Facebook Live town hall with those under his command.
“Our dedicated professionals of the NORAD and NORTHCOM command and control watch have left their homes, said goodbye to their families and are isolated from everyone to ensure that they can stand the watch each and every day to defend our homeland,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It’s certainly not optimal, but it’s absolutely necessary and appropriate given the situation.”
Earlier this month, U.S. and Canadian fighter jets intercepted Russian bombers near Alaska.
1:14 PM: Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday announced that all DOD installations globally would be upgraded to HPCON-C, the second-highest health protection level. The rating will introduce new restrictions on access to military facilities, including health screening and limits on large gatherings.
“Our curve is not flattening,” said Joint Staff Surgeon Gen. Paul Friedrichs of DOD personnel. “And that’s why we went to HPCON-C.”
As of Wednesday, there are 227 current cases of the coronavirus across Defense Department personnel. The department reported its first death on Saturday, a contractor who worked in the Washington, D.C. area. The Navy on Tuesday announced the first instance of coronavirus aboard a deployed U.S. ship, with three sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier testing positive for the virus. On Wednesday, U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, reported its first case.
Tuesday, March 24
08:06 PM: The U.S. Army will bring all of its facilities worldwide to HPCON-C, the second-highest level of health protection, service officials announced Tuesday evening.
U.S. military facilities in the Washington, D.C., region have already been at HPCON-C, which corresponds to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Level 3 warnings of sustained community transmission.
Contingency response forces will go to HPCON-D, which indicates severe risk and widespread community transmission.
Read the full release, here.
3:59 PM: Three sailors on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt have COVID‑19, acting SecNavy Thomas Modley said at Pentagon briefing. The sick are being airlifted off the ship, which is currently on deployement in the Philippine Sea. Navy Times has a bit more.
3:57 PM: National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel emphasized to reporters that there is “no plan” to use National Guard forces either under Title 32 status or state troops “to do quarantine or enforce shelter in place operations.”
Rumors of “martial law” have continued to circulate over text, WhatsApp and other social media platforms.
“It’s just not true,” Lengyel said. “Some of it is just social media doing what they do, some of it may be bad actors around the world trying to portray unrest and bad information.”
The National Guard does have the authority to assist local law enforcement with routine enforcement activities, but so far no state has asked it to do so, Lengyel said.
10:54 AM: Boeing plans to hold its annual shareholders meeting in late April virtually, the company announced Monday evening. Shareholders will have to enter a special voting code in order to gain access.
10:08 AM: Some highlights from todays DOD COVID-19 fact sheet:
- USNS Mercy deployed 1,128 military and civilians to Los Angeles in support of the nation’s COVID‑19 response efforts, providing a spectrum of medical care to include critical and urgent care for adults.
- The Army Corps of Engineers is set to begin work to convert hotels, dormitories, and other buildings into temporary medical facilities across the country.
- The DoD, in support of a request by FEMA, is set to deploy two Army combat support hospitals this week, one to Seattle and the second to New York in order to support the nation’s COVID‑19 efforts.
Monday, March 23
08:24 PM: President Trump on Monday signed an executive order that would allow the Justice Department to prosecute companies or individuals found to be hoarding precious medical supplies needed for coronavirus response efforts. The order gives Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar the power under the Defense Production Act to designate certain supplies as “critical.”
Detailing the order at a White House press conference Monday night, Attorney General William Barr emphasized that it is targeted at middle men trying to price gouge needed equipment like protective masks — not individuals or point-of-care facilities stockpiling to care for a potential influx of coronavirus patients.
“Once specific materials are so designated, persons are prohibited from accumulating those items in excess of reasonable personal or business needs or for the purpose of selling them in excess of prevailing market prices,” Barr said.
No materials have yet been designated as critical, Barr said, but the Justice Department is working with HHS to identify potential cases of criminal hoarding.
1:04 PM: Boeing has suspended airplane production in the Seattle area for 14 days beginning March 25. Air Force KC-46 tankers and Navy P-8 submarine hunters are made at these factories. Read the Boeing release, here.
12:02 PM: Here are the number of positive tests for COVID-19 in the U.S. military community, per an early-morning Pentagon press release:
- Military: 133 (up 22 since Sunday)
- Civilian: 44 (up 12)
- Dependents: 35 (down 2 due to DoD’s incorrect reporting)
- Contractors: 31 (unchanged)
Sunday, March 22
8:06 PM: President Trump will activate the federal national guard to help New York, California and Washington, three of the states hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak so far, he said during his Sunday evening press conference.
All three have already activated their state national guards, which are helping with things like patient transportation and logistics, and public sanitation. The federal Guard will activated under what is known as Title 32 authority. That puts state governors in charge of the troops, but with the federal government paying. Although those troops are expected — for now — to help with the same kind of support activities as the state Guard troops, Title 32 also allows those troops to assist with law enforcement if needed. (If the federal government had retained control over the troops, they would be forbidden from carrying out any domestic law enforcement activities under the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act.)
“Do I see it happening now? I don’t see any demand signal that’s demanding we’re going to use the National Guard in that scenario — but they could,” the top general of the National Guard, Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, said Thursday of the Guard taking on law enforcement duties.
7:07 PM: In a startling revelation at the beginning of his Sunday press conference, President Trump revealed that U.S. special forces had carried out a rescue operation for an American woman apparently trapped abroad as travel to the United States has been increasingly curtailed amid the coronavirus crisis. Trump declined to provide further details about the operation, and a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff declined to comment.
The woman is now back in the United States, Trump said, in response to questions from reporters.
“Bad things were happening to her in a certain country and we’re under the feeling that we should keep it somewhat private,” Trump said. “They got her out of a certain country where she was seriously abused, accosted and whatever the maximum word is other than death, that happened. But we got her out and she’s okay and she’s back with her parents.”
Trump praised Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley for the operation, calling him “unbelievable” and “an interesting guy.”
“They were not playing games,” Trump said.
Saturday, March 21
10:15 AM: A Navy sailor assigned to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, returned from overseas and entered mandatory quarantine on March 15, developed symptoms on March 18, and was tested positive on March 20. The sailor never entered CENTCOM HQ or Macdill AFB and is now being treated at home, CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said.
Friday, March 20
3:55 PM: The U.S. Air Force flew another 500,000 COVID‑19 testing swabs from Italy to the United States on Thursday, the second such mission this week, the service said in an emailed statement. Like the load of swabs delivered early Tuesday morning, the Air Force flew them on a C-17 from Aviano Air Base in Italy to Memphis, Tennessee. The swabs were then transferred onto FedEx plans and distributed around the country. The Air Force expects to fly more on these missions in support of Health and Human Services. Here are pictures and video from the plane’s arrival in Memphis.
2:15 PM: McClatchy: “The Pentagon has reported its first two coronavirus cases inside the building, a defense contractor and an active duty Air Force service member, an Air Force official told McClatchy.” Read on, here.
Update from the Air Force: The contractor who works in the Pentagon has been at home isolating since Mar. 7 and has not been in the building since Mar. 2. He worked the Total Force Integration Symposium at Joint Base Andrews, Md., March 3-6, with no symptoms, according to the Air Force. Attendees have been informed. The airman visited the Pentagon for less than an hour on Monday; he works the Defense Health Agency in Falls Church, Va., and ”has since received medical treatment and self-quarantined at home.”
1:34 PM: Some 2,600 U.S. troops and civilian personnel under U.S. European Command are in self-isolation after exposure or potential exposure to COVID‑19, while 35 have tested positive, the commanding general said. This will “not impact the ability of our forces to respond to threats,” Gen. Todd Wolters, EUCOM commander, told reporters in a Friday press conference.
The self-isolation is “a precaution due to travel or other reasons,” Defense Department officials said in a separate Friday statement. “These individuals are not necessarily sick, but may have been exposed and are doing their due diligence following health preventative measures.”
On Monday, EUCOM announced that no more Army forces would travel to Europe for Defender Europe 20, which will be severely scaled back from plans to make it the largest land-forces wargame in Europe since the Cold War. Wolters said Friday that he had “hoped to have 17,000 additional soldiers in Europe [in order to] stress the system from a ground maneuver perspective” but would instead carry on parts of the exercise with 5,000 to 6,000 troops.
About 72,000 active duty troops are presently serving in EUCOM’s area of responsibility.
10:07 AM: Two of the biggest events on the defense and aerospace industry calendar have cancelled their 2020 shows. Read the statements from the Farnborough Air Show and the Royal International Air Tattoo, both of which were scheduled for July.
Thursday, March 19
4:50 PM: The U.S. Navy just suspended “all large-scale graduation ceremonies” at its Recruit Training Command facilities in Great Lakes, Ill., and its Officer Training Command in Newport, R.I., “to help protect the mission by limiting the spread of COVID‑19,” according to a statement Thursday afternoon from the service’s Naval Education and Training Command. Until further notice, “these milestones will be marked by small, internal events that cannot be livestreamed.”
11 AM: The U.S. Army is temporarily shifting to minimal manning requirements for its units, Command Sergeant Major Tony Towns tweeted today. The decision was approved by Army Chief Gen. James McConville, and frees up soldiers to “restock and take care of necessary bills/errands prior to the madness of this weekend,” Towns wrote.
10:02 AM: Organizers, via email: “It is with deep regret that USGIF and its Board of Directors report the GEOINT 2020 Symposium will not take place in Tampa, Fla., on April 26-29….We are working out processes for appropriate refunds. Please be patient as this is a huge undertaking with our registration and housing company. We will update you with details when the procedures are set in place.”
Wednesday, March 18
06:12 PM: Shortly after invoking the Defense Production Act — which grants the president broad authorities to spur the private sector to boost production of medical supplies — President Trump tweeted that he “only signed [it]… should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future.”
“Hopefully there will be no need, but we are all in this TOGETHER!” The executive order delegates the authority to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to “determine the proper nationwide priorities and allocation of all health and medical resources, including controlling the distribution of such materials in the civilian market.”
Trump is already facing fierce criticism from the left that he waited too long to invoke the Defense Production Act in the first place. Defense Secretary Mark Esper defended Trump against those charges on CNN late Wednesday. “I don’t know the timing of all these different things,” Esper said. “He’s making some pretty sharp decisions, bold decisions to make sure we stay ahead of this.”
12:43 PM: President Trump will soon invoke the Defense Production Act to stimulate the private sector to produce essential medical equipment needed to cope with the rising number of coronavirus cases in the United States. “We’ll be invoking the Defense Production Act just in case we need it,” Trump announced during a Wednesday press conference. “We are ordering thousands and thousands of ventilators.” The Defense Production Act unlocks emergency powers that allows the president to compel domestic industry to take steps to provide “essential materials and goods needed for the national defense,” according to the Congressional Research Service. For weeks, hospitals have warned of potentially critical shortages of ventilators, masks, gloves and other protective equipment.
A 2005 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the United States would need mechanical ventilators for 740,000 patients in the event of a pandemic like the 1918 influenza pandemic. But there are only 160,000 ventilators currently available for patient use, according to an estimate from Johns Hopkins researchers, with another 8,900 held in what’s known as the Strategic National Stockpile.
12:41 PM: President Trump announced Wednesday afternoon that the USNS Comfort will deploy to New York and the USNS Mercy to an as-yet undetermined location on the West Coast. Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon, has warned that the two ships, each with a hospital capacity of about 1,000 beds, are not built to accommodate infectious disease patients. But it is possible they could be used for other, non-coronavirus patients to free up existing ICU beds that for those suffering from the virus. He did not say when either ship might be on station to provide relief.
U.S. Navy officials told Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson that the Comfort is currently in Norfolk, Va. and will not be able to arrive in New York until mid-April.
11:39 AM: There are 49 known cases of COVID‑19 among the DOD community as of 5 a.m. Wednesday, according to a Defense Department fact sheet released Tuesday. That’s up 30 from the previous day, and includes 49 military, 14 civilians, 19 dependents, and seven contractors.
The fact sheet also says National Guard units in 22 states are providing coronavirus-related aid to their states’ governors. Get the PDF, here.
Tuesday, March 17
1:58 PM: President Trump said Tuesday the U.S. government would consider bailing out Boeing, which is expected to take a financial blow as air travel declines amid the coronavirus outbreak. “We are looking at that, we are certainly looking at Boeing,” Trump said during a televised press conference. “We absolutely have to help Boeing…so we’ll be helping Boeing.” The planemaker, which builds most of its airliners in the COVID‑19-besiged Seattle region, has been in turmoil in the wake of two deadly crashes of its 737 Max. As of Monday, 11 Boeing employees tested positive for COVID‑19 and another 339 are under quarantine, the Wall Street Journal reported.
1:48 PM: Following on Friday’s stop-movement order from the deputy defense secretary, U.S. Transportation Command told moving companies to stop picking up household goods for troops and the families involved in permanent changes of station. The companies “to take no action on scheduled pick-ups or pack-outs of household goods until they confirm with the Personal Property Office responsible for the shipment that it should continue,” TRANSCOM officials said Tuesday. “Deliveries of household goods, unaccompanied baggage, and non-temporary storage lots should continue as scheduled.”
But waivers are allowed, so PCSing troops should check with their organization’s leadership: “Customers who are impacted by the stop movement order should determine the way ahead in coordination with their chain of command—which may include seeking a waiver from their leadership to continue the relocation process—and local Personal Property Office. The Department’s stop movement order does provide the flexibility for exceptions to allow pack-outs and pick-ups to continue.”
1:37 PM: The latest U.S. military drill to be cancelled because of the coronavirus is Exercise Phoenix Express 2020 set for April 5 to 18 in the Mediterranean Sea. “The decision not to proceed with the exercise comes in response to the global effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID‑19), while minimizing exposure of U.S. and partner nation service members to this virus,” U.S. Africa Command officials said in a statement Tuesday, adding, “U.S. Africa Command will continue to evaluate and adjust the scope of its activities as necessary to ensure force health protection and prevent the spread of the virus.”
1:32 PM: As military leaders social-distance themselves amid the COVID‑19 outbreak, the head of U.S. Strategic Command said he anticipates that some communications measures being installed during the pandemic may outlast it. “One thing I’m excited about here is the possibility that we may find some better ways of operating day-to-day utilizing some of this incredible communications capability that have, [which] may take us to a new normal where we find more efficient ways of accomplishing our business,” Adm. Charles Richard said during a telephone briefing with reporters this morning.
Monday, March 16
2:40 PM: The Pentagon has “put a bubble around” Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Monday morning. As a precautionary matter, the two senior civilian leaders at the Pentagon will communicate only through video conference. Physical access to Esper will be limited, Hoffman said.
1:50 PM: From National Guard spokeswoman April D. Cunningham: “As of this morning, more than 650 Air and Army National Guard professionals in 15 states are providing personnel in support of civil authority at the direction of their governors in response to COVID‑19.” She adds: Current National Guard COVID‑19 response missions include, but are not limited to: drive through testing facilities; response liaisons and support to state Emergency Operations Centers; support to healthcare professionals; logistics support; assisting with disinfecting/cleaning of common public spaces; providing transportation support for health care providers; collecting and delivering samples; and assisting with sample administration.”
The National Guard also released a PowerPoint deck with information about its response and possible upcoming moves. Get that, here.
10:42 AM: On Monday, the U.S. Army announced that the largest land exercise in decades would be “modified”: “The linked exercises to Exercise Defender-Europe 20 - Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response - will not be conducted,” it said. “As of March 13, all movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has ceased.” Full statement, here.
The move comes after Wednesday’s announcement by U.S. European Command that “we will modify the exercise by reducing the number of U.S. participants.”
8:14 AM: A sailor assigned to the Boxer, an amphibious assault ship homeported in San Diego, is the first known case found aboard a U.S. warship and the second from Naval Base San Diego. Navy Times has the story.
Sunday, March 15
7:07 PM: The Pentagon will shift to “minimal manning” on Monday, “with vast numbers of employees teleworking,” the Defense Department said in a statement on Sunday. Employees that must work with classified information for “mission-essential tasks” will work from the building in rotating “red” and “blue” teams. Read the statement, here.
2:59 PM: On Sunday, Ramstein officials posted this statement: “An employee who works at Ramstein Air Base has tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID‑19) Mar. 14. The individual is in isolation at her home off base. The employee had limited contact with other members on base after returning from a trip out of the country, but public health members and the employee’s leadership have been tracing and contacting people with whom the employee might have had contact with recently.”
Saturday, March 14
11:29 PM: Statement from Naval Base San Diego Public Affairs: “On March 13, a Sailor from Naval Base San Diego was tested “presumptive positive” for the coronavirus (COVID‑19), marking the first positive case for a Sailor in California. The individual is currently quarantined at home in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines. The positive test result is considered a presumptive positive, pending confirmation by the CDC.” Full statement, here.
10:31 PM: About 7 p.m. on Saturday, the White House released a statement saying that President Trump’s COVID‑19 test came back negative, a week after he interacted at Mar-a-Lago with a Brazilian official who tested positive. See the statement, via Vox’s Alex Ward.
5:55 PM: In a March 14 statement, AFRICOM officials said, “The decision not to proceed with the exercise comes in response to the global effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID‑19), while minimizing exposure of U.S. and partner nation service members to this virus.” Full statement, here.
For background on Obangame Express, read what Defense One staff and contributors have written about it.
15:50 PM: In a March 14 ALCON message, Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz encourages his force to telework if possible, but notes: “Coast Guard telework capacity is limited and much critical Coast Guard work cannot be performed remotely. Therefore Commanders and supervisors must balance risk to workforce with risk to mission in order to maximize the benefit of this limited capability.” Read the whole message, here.
3:35 PM: As of 5 a.m. on Saturday, there are 21 confirmed coronavirus cases among Defense Department personnel and dependents, a senior defense official told reporters.
- 10 servicemembers (one is hospitalized)
- One civilian
- Eight dependents
- Two contractors (one is hospitalized)
1:01 PM: The U.S. will stop all non-residents who have been in the U.K. or Ireland in the last 14 days from traveling to the United States, beginning Monday night at midnight, President Trump said at a Saturday press conference.
Vice President Mike Pence announced during the same press conference that U.S. citizens who have been in either of those countries will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Cargo will not be affected, Wolf said.
The announcement comes just days after President Donald Trump announced the closure of non-resident travel from much of the rest of Europe.
Trump also said Saturday that the United States is weighing domestic travel restrictions “in certain areas” — presumably states or local areas that have experienced significant outbreaks.
“No decisions have been made yet,” Pence said.
The president said, “If you don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t do it.”
12:55 PM: President Trump announced that he was tested last night for the novel coronavirus. Speaking during a press conference in the White House briefing room on Saturday afternoon, Trump said that he has not yet received the results of the test. Trump has been in contact with numerous individuals who have tested positive for the virus, including an aide to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
10:42 AM: ”Soldiers and civilians who are in the midst of traveling and need assistance should contact the 24-hour Army Service Center at 1-888-276-9472.” That’s the message from the U.S. Army in response to a report today from Washington, D.C.’s WAMU about the abrupt difficulties facing U.S. service members and their families in the wake of new travel restrictions issued this weekend by the Defense Department.
Friday, March 13
10:04 PM: The U.S. Defense Department’s Raven Rock Complex in the Pennsylvania mountains is off-limits to visitors as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a U.S. Air Force memo circulated throughout the service Friday. “No one may visit the Raven Rock Complex, unless an exception is approved through the service secretary to the director [of Washington Headquarters Services],” the memo states. Raven Rock is a sprawling complex that serves as a backup for the federal departments, as explained here by Garrett Graff, who wrote a book about the facility.
03:04 PM: Read it here.
02:57 PM: The Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference and trade show in National Harbor, Maryland, has been canceled. “Due to an order issued yesterday by the governor of Maryland prohibiting gatherings in excess of 250 people, we regret to inform you that Sea-Air-Space 2020 is canceled,” the Navy League said in a statement. The event will not be rescheduled and will be held next in April 12 to 14, 2021.
12:06 PM: The U.S. Air Force Academy has begun “an orderly dismissal of a large segment of our Cadet population” because of “the rapid spread of COVID‑19, and with multiple members of our base populace being monitored,” academy officials announced on Twitter and Facebook Friday.
12:04 PM: The U.S. military’s National Defense University is moving some of its programs online, including its Phase II Joint Professional Military Education, starting Monday. “Alternatives for other NDU programs, to include potential cancellations, will be announced separately,” the university announced Friday.
11:07 AM: Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the first lady of Canada, tested positive for COVID‑19 and on Thursday she and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau entered self-isolation. On Friday, the PM said border restrictions were working to limit the spread of the virus and that Canada would recommend all of its citizens avoid international travel, in an interview with CBC Radio. He is scheduled to address the nation later Friday.
10:43 AM: A service statement says the new 24-hour hotline (1-888-276-9472) will “provide guidance to service members and families affected by new Army guidelines concerning Permanent Change of Station moves to or from countries that have been designated as Alert Level 2 or 3 due to COVID‑19. Soldiers, family members and civilians can also find additional online resources and FAQs” online.
10:07 AM: The National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, will hold a March 24 meeting in Washington, D.C., instead of at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, the group announced in a Friday statement. Pence, who is coordinating the U.S. response to COVID-19, will convene the meeting on the White House grounds in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
09:48 AM: Listen now as Defense One and GovExec staffers answer: Where are disruptions hitting the defense industry hardest? How are federal workers adjusting? And what do we know about the race for a cure?
09:28 AM: The Space Symposium, scheduled for later this month in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been postponed, according to an email sent this morning by Thomas Dorama, vice president of Washington strategic operations The Space Foundation, the event organizer. More details are expected later today.
“We did not make this decision lightly and fully understand the impact to all across the space community,” Dorame wrote. “However, after consulting with our partners, the community, and public officials, we felt it was the right decision based on the ongoing challenges with the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic — prioritizing the health and safety of all.”
As well, the Future Security Forum, slated for April 28 in Washington, D.C., has been postponed. It’s a production of New America, Arizona State University, and the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College.
09:07 AM: Gen. Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Forces in South Korea told Pentagon reporters via video conference on Friday that the North Korean military appeared to have been on lockdown thanks to the coronavirus — although the opaque regime has not admitted to having any cases. For 24 days, it did not fly a single plane, Abrams said.
There are now nine cases connected to USFK.
Thursday, March 12
11:39 PM: The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has told cadets to stay on leave until Sun., March 29, according to a message from the commandant urging proper hygiene, social distancing, and remote learning. The academy has cancelled all sports and on Friday will close its gates to the public indefinitely.
4:44 PM: New York Times: “President Trump will not be tested for the coronavirus after coming into contact with a Brazilian official who tested positive for the virus just days after participating in meetings with him in Florida, the White House said on Thursday.” Read on, here.
4:34 PM: It’s not yet clear what the Guard’s role will be, but its activation is one of the steps announced Thursday by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to try to slow the spread of COVID‑19. Among them: The state’s public schools will close for two weeks. “Non-essential state employees are asked to telework. Public access to state buildings is prohibited…All events involving more than 250 people should be canceled, Hogan said,” according to CBS News.
02:54 PM: A U.S. Air Force service member at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma who recently traveled to Seattle is “undergoing evaluation and treatment following a presumptive positive novel coronavirus test,” the service said in a statement. In addition, a contractor at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia has tested positive for the virus. The COVID‑19 outbreak has also prompted the Air Force to:
- Cancel the March Air Force Base airshow (scheduled for March 28 and 29).
- Barred guests from the graduation ceremonies at Air University’s Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
- No spectators will be allowed at Air Force Academy home athletic games and the academy is closed to visitors.
10:46 AM: AP reports: “Congress is shutting the Capitol to the public until April in reaction to the spread of the coronavirus, officials announced Thursday, a rare step that underscores the growing gravity with which the government is reacting to the viral outbreak.” Only lawmakers, staff, journalists and visitors with official business will be permitted to enter the Capitol, Congressional office buildings, and the Congressional Visitor Center, beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday.
10:10 AM: The GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum, perhaps the most important annual security forum in Central and Eastern Europe, draws foreign and defense ministers, usually NATO’s SACEUR, and more. Organizers said Thursday that they will decide by April 10 whether to cancel the May gathering.
09:26 AM: The Pentagon has canceled all tours “until further notice,” according to a notice posted on the U.S. Defense Department website. It’s the first sign of increased restrictions on access to the U.S. military’s headquarters. The news was first reported by CNN’s Barbara Starr. N.B.: Per longstanding practice, all tours are pre-arranged — someone can’t simply walk up to the building and request a tour.
9:06 AM: A civilian employee of the garrison’s Directorate of Emergency Services is being treated at a German medical facility, a U.S. Army Europe statement said Wednesday, adding, ”The Army has begun the process of tracing and contacting people with whom the employee might have had contact over the past two weeks in his job in the Hohenfels community.”
Wednesday, March 11
9:45 PM: Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that defense and military personnel and their families are forbidden for 60 days to travel to, from, or through countries designated as a Level 3 risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — currently China, Italy, Iran and South Korea, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced. Servicemembers’ families are also banned from traveling to Level 2 countries, which currently include the UK, Japan, Singapore, Bahrain, and more.
08:40 PM: Members of the West Virginia National Guard trained staff at Charleston’s Cabell Huntington Hospital on Wednesday in the proper use of the protective suits they might wear if they need to treat COVID-19 patients. The units involved were the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Battalion of the 35th Civil Support Team (CST) and the 35th CBRN Enhanced Response Force Package.
5:04 PM: Fewer soldiers will take part in Defender-Europe, which has been billed as “the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe in 25 years,” U.S. European Command said Wednesday afternoon. “After careful review of the ongoing Defender-Europe 20 exercise activities and in light of the current Coronavirus outbreak, we will modify the exercise by reducing the number of U.S. participants,” EUCOM said in a statement. “Activities associated with the exercise will be adjusted accordingly and we’ll work closely with Allies and partners to meet our highest priority training objectives.”
3:56 PM: U.S. European Command: “After careful consideration and discussion with Allied and partner participants, Norwegian authorities have made the decision to cancel the remainder of Exercise Cold Response 20.”
U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, N.M.: “Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Army made the decision to cancel this year’s Bataan Memorial Death March scheduled for March 15, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 threat.”
3:06 p.m.: SOUTHCOM commander Adm. Craig Faller tells Pentagon reporters that the command has no “suspected or confirmed” cases of COVID-19 yet. Some conferences have been canceled, Faller said, and the command will make a “case-by-case” decision on canceling exercises. There have been 22 cases and one death on the South American continent.
2:57 p.m.: The DC-based event, “Arms Control, Nonproliferation & Disarmament: Into the Next Decade,” will likely be held in November, the organization says.
2:51 p.m.: Reuters: “The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, an unusual step that has restricted information and hampered the U.S. government’s response to the contagion, according to four Trump administration officials.” Read, here.
That follows this 1 p.m. tweet from DOD’s official twitter feed: “’The way that you control public health outbreak is not to hide data, it’s to be transparent to the public & to your partners going forward so that we have a clear understanding of the risk and then we can take appropriate measures to mitigate.’ — Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs”
1:45 p.m.: WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking to reporters: “In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled. There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives. Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals.In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher. “WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. “We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic… We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic.” Transcript, here.
12:42 p.m.: Asked what precautions he is taking to protect himself from COVID-19, octogenarian Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters “none” — and then offered his hand. “Wanna shake hands?” he said, according to The New York Times. The cavalier response from the Pentagon’s senior overseer on Capitol Hill comes as the Pentagon has implemented so-called “social distancing” practices per CDC guidelines that recommend people stand six feet away from one another. Pressure is mounting on lawmakers to cancel votes and curtail other activities in the Capitol to prevent an outbreak.
Tuesday, March 10
3:12 p.m.: The U.S. Air Force will not allow family members to attend basic military training graduations “until further notice,” the service announced Tuesday afternoon. “In an effort to minimize the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 and to prioritize the health and safety of Department of the Air Force personnel, the following modifications have been made:
- “At the United States Air Force Academy, official travel outside of the United States has been restricted for cadets, cadet candidates, and permanent party. Personal/leisure travel to countries with a CDC Level 2 or higher rating is also prohibited. As of now, restrictions will remain in place through the end of March.
- “Since South By Southwest in Austin, TX was cancelled, the Air Force’s Spark Collider and Pitch Bowl will now take place virtually, March 12. [Details are still in the works, an Air Force spokeswoman said in an email].
- “The Buckley [Air Force Base] Child Development Center has been closed for cleaning since a parent (family member) tested positive by the state for Coronavirus.
- “All Department of Air Force personnel have been directed to follow Center for Disease Control levels for travel guidance.”
Travis Air Force Base, Joint Base San Antonio and Dobbins Air Reserve Base are all housing quarantine passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked in Oakland on Monday.
1:11 p.m.: Fewer American, Moroccan, Tunisian and Senegalese troops will take part in African Lian “to minimize exposure of U.S. and partner nation service members to the novel coronavirus,” U.S. Africa Command said in a Tuesday statement. The exercise is slated to begin on March 23. “[T]he exercise will now include only portions that do not require lodging of troops in close quarters,” the command said. “It will also include the academics portion that has already begun.” Planning for African Lion 2021 is already under way.
12:30 p.m.: Gov. Andrew Cuomo has deployed the New York National Guard to New Rochelle, which is considered a COVID-19 cluster, to “deliver food to homes [and] to help with the cleaning of public spaces,” he said at a Tuesday news conference. The city northwest of New York City has 108 of the 173 COVI-19 confirmed cases in New York state, according to news reports. The military will not restrict travel or movement of people.
10:06 a.m.: The Association of the U.S. Army has canceled its annual Global Force symposium scheduled for next week in Huntsville, Alabama, amid coronavirus fears. “For the health and safety of all of our members and the participants in Global Force, canceling next week’s event is, regrettably, the right decision,” AUSA President and CEO Carter Ham, said in a Tuesday statement. AUSA staff will contact attendees and exhibitors about “cancelation and refund policies.” Most major defense firms have restricted employees travel, calling into question attendance at upcoming conferences and events.Tuesday, March 10, 2020