Where is the White House’s testing plan?; States teaming up; Navy COVID casualty, ID’d; The most helpful NATO ally; And a bit more.

“Call your own shots.” In another abrupt shift, President Trump said on Thursday that he’s now leaving the reopening of states up to governors. This latest development came as the White House issued a set of basic checkboxes to help understand when to allow various activities to resume. These include, for example, not opening back up until: 

  • a given area sees a 14-day period of declining documented COVID-19 cases; 
  • has a solid testing program in place for health care workers; 
  • has enough hospital beds, ventilators, and other supplies to treat all patients, etc. The Associated Press has more, here.

Critical caveat: Four months after the first U.S. case was found, the White House still has offered no detailed plan for reaching any of the goals above. 

Public-health experts insist that one key to resuming normalcy is greatly expanding testing, ensuring that it is accessible and affordable, and putting the resulting data to effective use through contract tracing and isolation plans. And states have had to organize in regional consortiums to end the medical-gear bidding wars that had emerged in the absence of a federal response. 

By the way: Those governor consortiums grew again on Thursday with the emergence of a Midwest group consisting of the governors of Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. CNN has more on that, here.

“You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told U.S. governors in a call Thursday afternoon, a recording of which was obtained by AP. “We’re going to be standing alongside of you.”

Some White House officials did concede that this will all take a while. The new guidelines “make clear that the return to normalcy will be a far longer process than Trump initially envisioned, with federal officials warning that some social distancing measures may need to remain in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak,” AP writes. “And they largely reinforce plans already in the works by governors, who have primary responsibility for public health in their states.”

Update: The Theodore Roosevelt sailor who died of COVID-19 has been identified. Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., 41, of Fort Smith, Arkansas, died Monday at Naval Hospital Guam. His wife, also a Navy sailor, was at his side, a Navy release said. 

There are now 660 known cases of COVID-19 among Thacker’s shipmates, or 13 percent of the sidelined aircraft carrier’s crew. More on the ship after the fold.

From Defense One

What’s Wrong With the Air Force’s ‘Connect Everything’ Project // Patrick Tucker: In a new report, GAO watchdogs say officials can’t say how much it costs or if it’ll even work

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: USN, USAF acquisition chiefs talk COVID; Shipbuilder staggers shifts; Contractor accidentally ejects himself; and more...

No Military Has Done More for Corona-Stricken Allies Than Germany’s // Elisabeth Braw: The Bundeswehr has been flying supplies to, and medevacing patients from, its European neighbors.

Haircuts in a Time of Coronavirus? // Jim Golby: There have been too many confusing messages during this crisis. Senior military and civilian leaders should be enforcing social distancing as much as discipline, and with one voice.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1946, the French military officially withdrew its last soldier from Syria under the so-called French mandate, thereby granting Syria its full independence.

The French navy is under fire for how the coronavirus spread on its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, Reuters reports from Paris. So far, “Nearly 700 out of 1,767 sailors in the carrier group that includes the flagship Charles de Gaulle have so far tested positive for the virus, a total expected to rise when results are finalised from a third of the tests. Twenty crew members are in hospital, including one in intensive care.” Read on, here.
Roosevelt updates: The Navy’s COVID fact sheet for Friday reports that 660 of the Theodore Roosevelt’s 4,865 sailors have COVID-19, while 3,920 have tested negative. 4,059 sailors have moved ashore into isolation accommodations on Guam, where the nuclear-powered carrier has been sidelined since March 27. Seven sailors are in U.S. Naval Hospital Guam for COVID-19 symptoms, one in the ICU.
Other news:

  • Navy leaders think the coronavirus flew on with aircrew, and wasn’t picked up during early-March port visit in Danang, Vietnam, the WSJ reports.
  • The Roosevelt captain who was fired for emailing a memo begging for help for his COVID-stricken ship sent it to fewer people than Navy leaders said. The Washington Post got hold of the original March 30 email, and found that it had about a dozen names, not the “20 or 30” that then-acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly said it did.

Elsewhere in Europe, outdoor Rome has become a place for the birds, thanks to the coronavirus. AFP takes you there, here
And in Belfast, Ireland, vans are driving around with kegs of Guinness for at-home delivery since the pubs are all closed. 
Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Moscow has more coronavirus cases than state testing shows,” Reuters reports today. “Employees from three Moscow-based private laboratories told Reuters that positive results were coming back in between 1% and 5% of cases - a wide range but a significantly greater share than the official tally. Like many countries, Russia is not carrying out mass testing, focusing solely on people with symptoms, those who have returned from abroad or people who have had known contact with infected individuals.” More here.
Meanwhile in NW Syria, some families are heading back to their destroyed neighborhoods because they just might be safer there than in crowded refugee camps.
Also in Syria this week: Russian and Turkish troops went on their fourth joint patrol on Wednesday, Reuters reported in a very short hit, here

In tech news this week, India’s government is the latest to ban Zoom for official business, citing concerns over the app’s privacy vulnerabilities. The advisory came from India’s Cyber Coordination Centre, and “comes as several companies including Google, Apple, NASA, and Tesla have urged — or warned — their employees from using Zoom,” TechCrunch reports, adding “German and Taiwan have also banned the use of Zoom in their nations.” More here.
Google seems to smell blood in the water and on Thursday announced an expansion of its video conferencing tool Meet for educators and businesses. "The integration of Meet with e-mail is the first of several features being launched ahead of schedule because of a surge in demand for video conferencing," Reuters reported after speaking to Google vice president Javier Soltero.
Notable fine print: “Google is not charging customers for upgrades to Meet-related features like large video calls during a six-month period ending in September,” Reuters writes. “The policy, which is aimed at winning over customers in the long run, could add to the strain on Google’s profits at a time at when its ads sales business is taking a hit.” More here, or read Google’s explainer here.

And finally: This week we learned that U.S. “military personnel perform, on average, like or slightly better than the civilian population” along a variety of metrics including “such as family income and family wealth as well as cognitive abilities.” That’s one facet of some recent research in the Journal of Strategic Studies looking at American military demographic trends over the past roughly five decades. The findings were highlighted in a Thursday report from The Economist entitled, “Social climbing: Recruits to America’s armed forces are not what they used to be.”
The work was sparked by a reassessment of “an intense debate between two opposing camps, headed by two leading intellectuals, Milton Friedman and Charles Moskos.” For Friedman, “compulsory military service led to a military of slaves.” For Moskos, “a military of volunteers was a military of mercenaries.” 
As a former soldier, attempts to apply that slave/mercenary dichotomy to the U.S. military of today seem more than just misguided and offensive to your D Brief-er. But apparently, “From past research, we know that from the abolition of the draft through the mid-1990s, Moskos’ prediction about the socio-economic backgrounds of those who joined the military turned out to be correct.” However, that is no longer the case. 
Long story short: “for the period 1997-2008, the U.S. armed forces have been recruiting primarily from the middle-class rather than from poorest (or the richest) groups,” the researchers write. 
To expand on that, “recent recruits tend to have higher than average socioeconomic background: they disproportionally come from the middle of the family income, family wealth, and cognitive skill distributions, with both tails under-represented.” What’s more, “among individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds, those with higher cognitive abilities — i.e., those with better career options — are more likely to enlist, in contrast to the existing understanding.” 
Perhaps most interestingly for the future of U.S. national security, the authors write “Rather than an entity separated from the rest of society, as some have warned, men and women who serve are likely to embody the values and culture of the median voters. This affects not only the nature of the military itself, but also the calculations in terms of costs and benefits of democracies electing to go to war.” 
There’s even a takeaway regarding China’s rise in the 21st century buried in this research: “But as the research by Stephen Biddle has long shown, U.S. military prowess comes not only from its technology, but also from the human capital of those employing it and from the extensive training they receive. This means that in the emerging military-technological rivalry between the USA and China, the competition for talent will play an increasingly important role.” 
Read the rest of the research, here. And a big tip of the hat to Defense One contributor Jim Golby for flagging it on Twitter this morning.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!