The Prognosis: Latest News on Coronavirus & National Security
COVID-19 news is moving quickly. Here's the latest in the military, defense industry, and related spheres.
Pentagon leaders involved in President Donald Trump’s vaccine-hunting effort announced last week have spent this week “working through the staffing issue” in order to determine how many people will be assigned the operation, top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters on Thursday.
Gen. Gustave Perna, who is co-leading the effort, is "discussing the staffing and the breakdown and how that will work,” Hoffman said, but those decisions have not yet been solidified.
“We’re going to have a number of entities flowing resources to him,” Hoffman said. “What those resources are are not down on paper yet, but if you’ll give me another week or so, we do hope to come back to you with some more information.”
Right now, officials at the DOD and the Department of Health and Human Services are still working on a so-called “memorandum of understanding,” laying out the shared responsibilities of each agency. DOD’s role is expected to be centered around manufacture and distribution of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, Hoffman said.
“This is a big task that we’re undertaking,” Hoffman said.
The U.S. military's chief is now allowing base commanders "to begin planning to return to normal operations in the COVID environment," the Defense Department announced Wednesday in a statement.
Some of the various factors base commanders must weigh when updating HPCON — health protection condition — levels include "guidance from the CDC; collaboration with state, territorial and local health authorities; and advice from the command Public Health Emergency Officer and local Military Treatment Facility," which includes base clinics and hospitals.
The new guidance from Defense Secretary Mark Esper also requires commanders demonstrate the following before lifting or relaxing restrictions:
- a "Downward trajectory of reported cases of influenza-like and COVID-like illnesses over the preceding 14-day period";
- a "Downward trajectory of documented COVID-19 cases or of positive tests as a percent of total tests over the preceding 14-day period";
- and base commanders must ensure that "Military MTFs or local hospitals have the capacity to treat patients and have an adequate diagnostic COVID-19 testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers and those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19."
Read Esper's memo implementing these new requirements, here.
The Trump administration laid out a framework on Friday for an effort to speed the development, manufacture and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, with DOD stepping in once a vaccine is identified to “enable faster distribution and administration than would have otherwise been possible using wholly private medical infrastructure.” The goal is to have a vaccine by January 2021.
The Defense Department is also providing subject-matter experts on diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines, production and distribution and security.
The effort, announced in April as Operation Warp Speed, is a public-private partnership primarily involving components of the Department of Health and Human Services, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It will be led by venture capitalist Moncef Slaoui as chief advisor and Gen. Gustave F. Perna, who leads U.S. Material Command, as chief operating officer.
The Defense Department community has seen 7,702 cases of COVID-19, including 3,061 people who have recovered and 27 who have died, defense officials report in the May 7 fact sheet.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Thursday announced a GOP-led “China Task Force” to examine a host of Chinese activity seen as a threat to the United States, including its “role in the origin and spread of COVID-19.”
“One thing has become very clear: China’s coverup directly led to this crisis,” McCarthy said during a press conference at the Capitol. “One of the most appalling things we have found by CCP is while they denied flights from Wuhan into Beijing, they allowed the international flights to go around the world for the virus to continue to spread.”
The panel will be led by House Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Mike McCaul, R-Texas, and will examine Chinese influence operations targeting the United States, economic threats, and efforts to gain technological advantages. A report with legislative recommendations will be due in October, McCarthy said.
Other members will include Reps. Mike Gallagher, Wisc.; Chris Stewart, Utah; Jim Banks, Ind.; Adam Kinzinger, Ill.; Liz Cheney, Wyo.; and Elise Stefanik, N.Y.
The panel was originally supposed to include Democrats, McCarthy said, but they backed out a few months ago — apparently out of concern that the China issue has become too politicized, the Washington Post reported.
“We are very cognizant of the need to hold China accountable for its actions,” a senior Democratic aide told the Post’s Josh Rogin. “But to the extent this is going to be the Trump administration’s scapegoat for its utter failure, we are not going to go along with that.”
The U.S. Defense Department signed a $126 million deal with 3M that will increase production of much-needed N95 respirator masks to 26 million per month by October.
“[T]his increased production/industrial capacity will continue to ensure a sustainable supply chain of N95 respirators and resupply the Strategic National Stockpile in response to the increased national demand caused by the COVID 19 pandemic,” Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, a Defense Department spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “3M will design, procure, and implement necessary production facilities and equipment to expedite existing delivery schedule and increase N95 respirator production by at least 312 million annually within the next twelve months.”
The Pentagon said the company will create two new N95 mask manufacturing lines. The masks will be made in Wisconsin and South Dakota. The masks are funded through the CARES act.
Over 30,000 military families have been approved for an exception to Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s “stop-movement” order, according to Rick Marsh, director of defense personal property program for TRANSCOM.
Those families will be allowed to move on to their next assignment — known in military parlance as PCSing, or making a permanent change in station — “if conditions allow” and under specific guidelines for moving during the COVID-19 pandemic, Marsh said.
Moving companies will be required to screen moving crews and minimize crew size, while crew members will be required to wear face coverings and routinely clean frequently-touched services.
“If families aren’t comfortable, they should stop work and reschedule their move, period,” Marsh told Pentagon reporters.
Esper extended domestic travel restrictions for service members and families until the end of June last month, with a promise to reevaluate as conditions change.
“This week, I will conduct the first 15-day review to determine if adjustments are warranted as we work to ease the burden on the force as much as possible,” Esper told Pentagon reporters on Tuesday. “We will continue to remain agile, flexible, and responsive to stay ahead of the needs of state and local authorities across the country.”
Some 12,500 service members and families have already moved since Esper put the stop-movement order in place in March, about 30 percent of the typical volume, according to Marsh.
The Maryland National Guard was deployed to a Baltimore airport to ensure that the federal government would not seize an incoming shipment of masks and other medical equipment, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told the Washington Post in a Thursday interview.
Hogan described the extraordinary lengths to which he and the Maryland government went to obtain the personal protective equipment, and then to protect it from seizure by federal agents, as has happened to similar gear in other states.
It took "about 22 days and nights" to set up the deal, which ultimately involved eight state agencies, the South Korean embassy, U.S. State Department personnel in South Korea, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Customs and Border Protection agency, Hogan told the Post's Robert Costa.
"We made sure the plane landed at BWI Airport instead of Dulles" International Airport in Virginia, Hogan said, adding that it was the first time a Korean Air passenger plane has arrived there.
A "large contingent" of Maryland National Guard and Maryland State Police met the aircraft at BWI, Hogan said.
"This was an enormously valuable payload. This was like Fort Knox to us, because it was going to save the lives of thousands of our citizens," he said.
Hogan said he was concerned that the federal government might try to seize the shipment. He cited the experience of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who said the federal government had seized some 3 million masks.
Reports of various federal agencies seizing or outmaneuvering state governments and private companies have been appearing for about a month. On April 6, the New York Times cited incidents in Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Colorado. The following day, the Los Angeles Times added incidents in Florida, Washington, and Texas.
On April 17, an executive of a private Massachusetts-based hospital chain described how he prevented the Department of Homeland Security from seizing a PPE shipment only by getting the state's Congressional delegation involved. Dr. Andrew Artenstein's account was published by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.
In other instances, FEMA has simply outbid states at the last minute, the New York Times reported on April 20.
Federal officials have said the seizures are part of "a system for identifying needed supplies from vendors and distributing them equitably," the L.A. Times reported April 7. A FEMA representative said the system was developed in cooperation with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense. But no federal official has yet detailed how the system works, when supplies can be confiscated, and to whom they are eventually distributed.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has tried to keep his hands clean of the USS Theodore Roosevelt saga, but it just keeps steaming ahead. First, Esper left the fate of the aircraft carrier's Capt. Brett Crozier to an acting Navy secretary, Thomas Modly. After Modly's botched performance — defending, then firing, and then vulgarly insulting Crozier to his own aircraft carrier crew — Modly resigned/was canned, leaving Crozier flagging in the wind. Esper thusly tapped James E. McPherson to replace Modly. McPherson had been sworn in as under secretary of the Army less than one month earlier. Before that, he was the Army's top lawyer.
On Friday, Epser received a verbal briefing of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday's investigation of the entire incident, and his recommendation as to whether Crozier would be returned to command of his ship. Esper asked to see the final written report. Several news outlets have reported that Navy leaders wanted Crozier back at the helm, but Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark. Milley was not as eager.
On Wednesday morning, Trump's latest acting Navy secretary, McPherson, rejected Gilday's report and recommendation, and has asked for additional investigating.
The saga continues. Here's McPherson's full statement:
"After carefully reviewing the preliminary inquiry into the events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, provided me with his recommendations. Following our discussion, I have unanswered questions that the preliminary inquiry has identified and that can only be answered by a deeper review.
"Therefore, I am directing Adm. Gilday to conduct a follow-on command investigation. This investigation will build on the good work of the initial inquiry to provide a more fulsome understanding of the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt."
Lockheed Martin has hired another 700 employees in the past two weeks, the company said in a statement Friday.
The new workers will “support essential national security work,” the statement said. “Lockheed Martin is committed to continue hiring during the pandemic and is advertising more than 4,000 open positions for technical and non-technical careers.”
The news means Lockheed has hired about 1,700 people over the past four weeks, a span when more than 26 million other Americans lost their jobs as coronavirus tightens its grip on the U.S. economy.
The company is also converting summer internships into a “virtual experience.” In addition, the company says it has sent $256 million to its suppliers. In all, it plans to accelerate $450 million to its suppliers.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper will be briefed Friday afternoon by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday on the findings of an internal Navy report into the circumstances surrounding the controversial removal of Capt. Brett Crozier, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt who was removed from command after warning of an outbreak on the aircraft carrier.
“He’s going into this with an open mind and he’s generally inclined to support Navy leadership and their positions,” top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters in a morning briefing.
Some critics of the removal have suggested that Crozier should be reinstated, while others argue that he violated the chain of command by distributing his email to multiple Navy officials who were not his direct superiors — no matter how valid his concerns that the Navy wasn’t moving fast enough to protect sailors on the stricken ship.
The probe was led by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke.
At least one sailor on the USS Kidd has tested positive for COVID-9, top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters on Friday. The news was first reported by Reuters.
The Kidd, a guided missile destroyer currently deployed to the Caribbean on an anti-narcotics mission, is preparing to return to port where at least part of the crew will be removed, Hoffman said. In the meantime, an eight-person medical evaluation team flown onto the ship is conducting testing and contact tracing and isolating at-risk sailors.
Hoffman said that there have been other positive cases, but did not provide a specific figure.
The ill sailor was medivaced off of the ship after displaying symptoms, Hoffman said, and subsequently tested positive.
Read the Navy's statement, here.
From the U.S. Navy's April 22 COVID-19 fact sheet; Two Navy Department civilian employees have apparently died of complications related to COVID-19, bringing total employee deaths to five, and the Navy community's total to nine.
- On April 19, a civilian employee of the Navy Department assigned to Personnel Support Detachment Oceana, died at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.
- On April 21, a civilian employee of the Navy Department assigned to Washington Navy Yard died at George Washington University Hospital.
- Update on USS Theodore Roosevelt: 777 sailors have tested positive; 3,919, negative; that represents 99% of the crew. As well, 63 sailors have recovered and 4,196 sailors have moved ashore.
Some 15,000 troops under U.S. Northern Command have been deployed across the United States to support FEMA’s COVID-19 response, NORTHCOM's commander told reporters Tuesday.
The troops include more than 500 medical personnel, who have deployed in teams of roughly 85 to Javits Center in New York City, hospitals, the USNS Comfort and Mercy hospital ships, tent hospitals, and elsewhere, Gen. Terrence John O'Shaughnessy said. These troops have treated some 1,400 patients, he said.
About one half of one percent of his medical troops — less than 0.1 percent of his overall forces — have tested positive for COVID-19, O'Shaughnessy said, but he declined to provide a specific number, citing operational concerns.
“We know that there are going to be infections for our personnel doing this mission set,” he said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper extended the military's stop-movement order to extend through June 30, a decision the Pentagon on Monday said will have "great impact" on the millions of employees and dependents throughout the Defense Department. The previous 60-day stop-movement order was issued on March 25 and would have expired on May 24.
"While the Department acknowledges that this order will have great impact on our service members and their families who are looking to proceed with their lives, the rapidly changing environment has created significant risks to service members, as the DOD continues personnel movements and travel," the Pentagon said in a statement. "The decision was made in order to protect U.S. personnel and preserve the operational readiness of our global force."
Waivers are still available "for several categories of travelers that were previously suspended, including deployments," the Defense Department noted in its statement on Monday.
The Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to convert the Walter E. Washington Convention Center into a temporary hospital as the nation’s capital prepares for its peak in COVID-19 cases.
The facility will house between 500 and 1,500 patients, corps commander Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite told Pentagon reporters on Friday.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser earlier in the day said the hospital would be used in a “worst-case scenario.”
Estimated completion for the project is May 30. Hensel Phelps Construction Co. was awarded an $18,600,000 contract for the project.
Updated: 4:47 p.m.
Another Defense Department civilian employee and another dependent have died of COVID-19, according to DoD's April 16 fact sheet, which reflects the known data as of 5 a.m. Eastern time.
That brings the total number of employees known to have died of the coronavirus to nine, the number of dependents to three, and the total DoD community toll to 19.
Today's fact sheet also has an odd discrepancy with yesterday's as Military.com's Hope Hodge Seck points out: it says that a total of 4,695 troops, employees, dependents and contractors are known to have tested positive for the disease. But yesterday's fact sheet said 4,766.
Read the fact sheet, here.
The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research has chosen three potential vaccine types for COVID‑19 and is preparing to begin initial animal testing “two weeks ahead of schedule,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told Pentagon reporters on Thursday.
Scientists with the Silver Spring, Md., institute have been working since January, when Chinese scientists first published the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus. Surgeon General of the Army Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle said that the Army is “shooting” to be able to choose vaccine types for human testing this summer, but he cautioned that the timeline is still “to be determined.”
Known cases of COVID‑19 reached 1,224 in the U.S. Navy community on Thursday, up 37 in a day, according to the Navy’s April 16 fact sheet.
The total includes 983 sailors, up 32; 134 civilians, up 3; 54 contractors, up 1: and 53 dependents, up 1.
Total number of deaths remained 12.
That's up 69 from yesterday, per DOD's daily fact sheet.
There are 615 positive cases of COVID-19 among the 4,865 sailors of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt, pierside in Guam, the Navy reports in its April 15 COVID fact sheet. 4,046 of the sailors have moved to isolation accommodations ashore.
As footage emerged of Marines waiting in line to have their hair cut in violation of social distancing practices, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley defended haircut requirements across the Defense Department.
“Whether they are Marines, soldiers or airmen, or sailors, discipline is a fundamental function of our force,” Milley told reporters on Tuesday. “Yes, I think Marines should get haircuts.”
He mentioned his own father, who fought at Iwo Jima.
"That Marine victory was the result of extreme discipline,” Milley said. “It may seem superficial to some, but that victory was the result of that discipline."
Earlier in the briefing, Defense Secretary Mark Esper appeared open to relaxing those regulations, saying he would call the Marine Commandant and tell him, “If you need to suspend hair cuts for a period of time —”
“Don’t take that as guidance yet! Don’t take that as guidance yet!” Milley interjected. “Lots of ways to do haircuts!”
Total DoD cases — current, recovered and deaths — among troops, civilian employees, dependents, and contractors was 4,769, as of 5 a.m. Eastern time today, according to the Defense Department's April 14 fact sheet.
Other highlights from the April 14 fact sheet:
- "U.S. Northern Command is responsible for the DoD’s active-duty operations in response to COVID-19 with over 13,200 people – to include nearly 3,600 medical personnel – deployed in support of response operations."
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "is executing 48 FEMA Mission Assignments totaling $1.7 billion, with 15,000 personnel engaged and over 2,081 deployed in support of COVID‑19 response operations. USACE has assessed over 1,000 potential sites for possible use as Alternate Care Facilities (ACF) designed to address the surge of COVID patients in the Nation’s healthcare system."
- "Over 30,000 National Guard professionals are supporting COVID-19 response at
the direction of their governors. State priorities continue to focus on supporting
community-based testing sites, creating additional medical capacity, and providing
logistical support to include transportation and distribution of medical supplies and
“After more than two weeks of suspended operations across our Puget Sound and Moses Lake facilities, we are proceeding with a safe and orderly restart of some operations, starting today for managers and as early as tomorrow for employees,” Larry Chambers, a company spokesman, said in an email Monday. Employees returning to work will have to wear a mask or face covering. The company is taking a number of actions, including employee wellness checks and staggering shift-starting times.
Commercial airplane production remains shut down in the Seattle region and in Charleston, South Carolina. Boeing’s Philadelphia helicopter plant is also closed.
The U.S. military just released its eighth iteration of updated health guidance on "the prevention of coronavirus in workplaces," along with 12 FAQs. Read it, here.
And here's a timeline of various COVID‑19 guidance the U.S. military has issued to servicemembers:
- Feb. 7: Initial guidance ("Force Health Protection Guidance Supplement 1")
- Feb. 25: Supplement 2
- March 10: Supplement 3
- March 11: Supplement 4 •
- March 13: POTUS declares emergency
- March 25: 60-day stop movement order
- April 6: Army postpones basic training for two weeks
- April 8: Supplements 5 and 6
- April 9: Supplement 7
- April 13: Supplement 8 (the latest)
Confirmed cases of U.S. troops with COVID‑19 touched 2,567 at 5 a.m. today, up 172 from one day ago. Read the daily DoD COVID fact sheet, here.
The sailor tested positive for the virus on March 30 and was placed in accommodations on Guam with four other sailors. On April 9, the sailor was found unresponsive and taken to the ICU of Naval Hospital Guam. Read the statement, here.
Boeing delivered much-needed personal protective equipment to the Department of Health and Human Services this morning, the company said in a statement. FEMA will deliver the shields to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, which is being transformed into a hospital that will treat COVID‑19 patients.
“Boeing is set to produce thousands more face shields per week, gradually increasing production output to meet the growing need for Personal Protective Equipment in the United States. Distribution of additional face shields will be coordinated with HHS and FEMA based on immediate needs.”
Boeing workers are manufacturing the face shields at more than a dozen sites.
The roll also includes 493 DoD civilians, up 45; 325 dependents, up 48; and 206 contractors, up 9. The sheet also notes five more COVID deaths in the DoD community — two civilians, one dependent, and two contractors — bringing the total toll to 13.
Read the full fact sheet, here.
Confirmed COVID cases among active duty military totaled 1,898 today, an increase of 108 from yesterday, per the Defense Department's daily fact sheet. The current breakdown of cases by service is Army: 389 (up by 7), Air Force: 367 (up 12), Marine Corps: 164 (up 8), Navy: 597 (up 49), and National Guard: 381 (up 32).
Read the whole fact sheet, here.
The Defense Department isn't releasing base-by-base data, but by Newsweek's count, more than 100 military installations in 41 states have seen at least one case. Read, here.
Acting Defense Department inspector general Glenn Fine has been replaced by Sean O’Donnell, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general. The move means that Fine, known for his independence, is no longer the chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. He returns to his Senate position as principal deputy inspector general of the Pentagon.
The Defense Department is sending 325 medical professionals to New York City to support 11 local public hospitals, it announced Tuesday afternoon. Those doctors, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners and others, will be in addition to 775 DOD medical professionals being sent to the city to work at the Javits Center, which has been reconverted into a hospital facility.
According to DOD’s April 7 fact sheet, there are 1,521 known cases of COVID‑19 among active duty troops, up 86 from yesterday. Read the full fact sheet, here.
Politico reports that a sailor aboard USNS Comfort, which is docked in New York City, has tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. “The person is isolated from patients and other crew members, the official said, adding that the incident will not affect the Comfort’s ability to receive patients from the local community,” Lara Seligman wrote.
According to DoD’s April 7 fact sheet, Comfort has 41 patients aboard, including 5 with COVID-19.
In Los Angeles, USNS Mercy has treated 20 patients.
All Boeing airliner production will stop indefinitely on Wednesday when the company shuts down its 787 Dreamliner production in South Carolina amid coronavirus fears. “Those who cannot work remotely will receive paid leave for 10 working days of the suspension, which is double the company policy,” the company said in a statement. “After 10 days, teammates will have the option to use a combination of available paid time off benefits or file for emergency state unemployment benefits.”
All of Boeing’s airliner production in Washington State has been suspended since March 25. Last week, the company stopped building military helicopters in Philadelphia because of COVID‑19.
The company’s fighter jet production lines in St. Louis and helicopter factories in Tucson, Arizona, remain open.
“Those who are currently in BCT and Advanced Individual Training will continue training under the screening and monitoring guidelines established last month and will proceed to their next assignments upon graduation.
“This tactical pause will allow commands to ensure appropriate safety measures are in place and are operating effectively at training installations.” Read on, here.
The U.S. military saw a 47% rise in confirmed cases among troops over the weekend — from 978 Friday to now 1,435 today, according to the April 6 fact sheet.
Also: The single dependent death (to date) has been recategorized as a civilian.
View the fact sheet, here.
Boeing will keep its Seattle-area factories closed indefinitely to help limit the COVID‑19 spread across the region heavily hit by the coronavirus, the company said Sunday. “During the suspension, the company will continue to implement additional health and safety measures at its facilities to protect employees,” Boeing said in a statement. “These measures include new visual cues to encourage physical distancing, more frequent and thorough cleaning of work and common areas and staggering shift times to reduce the flow of employees arriving and departing work, among many other improvements.”
The factories have been closed since March 25. Boeing builds 737, 747, 767 and 787 airliners — along with Navy P-8s sub hunters and Air Force KC-46 tankers — at several production sites in the Seattle region.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt that he relieved Capt. Brett Crozier for being “too naive or too stupid” to remain in command of the aircraft carrier, CNN reports off an unofficial transcript of Modly’s Monday-morning remarks in Guam.
CNN also reports that the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, and other senior Navy officials recommended that Modly not fire Crozier while he was overseeing the evacuation of the COVID-stricken ship, nor before investigating Crozier’s decision a week ago to send an urgent request for help to Navy officials outside his chain of command. Read on, here.
"I think it’s close to criminal the way they’re dealing with this guy,” said Vice President Joe Biden, on ABC’s This Week, on Sunday. “The idea that this man stood up and said what had to be said, got it out that his troops, his — his Navy personnel were in danger. Look at how many have the virus. I think the guy should be — he should be — have a commendation rather than be fired.”
Capt. Brett Crozier has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to two of his Naval Academy classmates, reports John Ismay, on the New York Times’ At War blog. Pentagon and Navy official declined to comment.
“Effective immediately, to the extent practical, all individuals on DoD property, installations, and facilities will wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper wrote in a memo to senior military leaders released Sunday.
The guidance does not apply to military families inside their own homes on bases and installations. Local commanders may make exceptions to the rule, but must inform their chain of command. Security checkpoints also may require individuals to lower their makes for identification.
“As an interim measure, all individuals are encouraged to fashion face coverings from household items or common materials, such as clean T-shirts or other clean cloths that can cover the nose and mouth area. Medical personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators or surgical masks will not be issued for this purpose as these will be reserved for the appropriate personnel.”
Esper said the change was coming on ABC’s This Week, on Sunday.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper continued to defend the sacking of the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s Capt. Brett Crozier, saying on Sunday that he supported Acting Navy Secretary’s decision, but deflected questions asking him directly if he agreed with the call.
On Sunday, Esper told CNN’s Jake Tapper “I think acting Secretary Modly made a very tough decision, a decision that I support. It was based on his view that he had lost faith and confidence in the captain, based on his actions. It was supported by Navy leadership. And I think it’s — it’s just another example how we hold leaders accountable for their actions.”
On Saturday, two retired 4-star admirals came out in support of Crozier. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff and chief of the Navy and James Stavridis, former top NATO officer and supreme allied commander of Europe, opposed Modly’s decision. It’s a rare rebuke from retired officers of such seniority to a sitting Navy secretary.
“I think the firing was a really bad decision, because it undermines the authority of the military commanders who are trying to take care of their troops, and significantly negatively impacts the willingness of commanders to speak truth to power,” Mullen said to the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius, who’s father, Paul Ignatius, was secretary of the Navy from 1967 to 1969.
President Donald Trump also said, “I thought it was terrible, what he did. To write a letter? …He shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter. He could call and ask and suggest.”
Esper declined to agree with the president that Crozier’s plea was “terrible,” because there is an ongoing investigation. Asked if the decision was made by Trump, Esper replied, “This was Secretary Modly’s decision. He briefed me about it. And I got — I took the advice of the CNO and General Milley with regard to it. And I told him I would support his decision.”
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos also asked Esper if the firing was Trump’s call. “Look, this was Secretary Modly’s call. He came and briefed me the night before. The morning of, he sat down and talked to me,” Esper said. “I listened to the recommendations of the CNO, the chief of naval operations, and General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was the Secretary Modly’s call and I told him I would support it.”
When Stephanopoulos pressed if the other Joint Chiefs agreed with the decision, Esper dodged. “I’m not going to comment on our private recommendations. You can talk to them separately.”
Current COVID‑19 cases in the DoD community are up to 1,648 as of 5 a.m., DoD’s daily fact sheet reports. That’s up 98 from yesterday, and includes 978 troops, 306 civilian employees, 256 dependents, and 108 contractors. Another 98 have recovered from the disease, while five have died of it.
New today: the fact sheet breaks out cases by service: Army: 277; USAF, 230; USMC, 73; USN, 322 (including 114 aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt as of yesterday afternoon); and Army National Guard, 76. Read the full fact sheet, here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 10 servicemembers (one is hospitalized)
- One civilian
- Eight dependents
- Two contractors (one is hospitalized)
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.”
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.
"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.
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.
Read it here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Six U.S. troops, plus seven military dependents, have been diagnosed with COVID-19, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters. (Via ABC News’ Elizabeth McLaughlin)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
The DC-based event, “Arms Control, Nonproliferation & Disarmament: Into the Next Decade,” will likely be held in November, the organization says.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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