Today's D Brief: WH escalates vaccine push; Afghan refugees arrive stateside; Sailor charged in ship fire; RIP, Carl Levin; And a bit more.
Paid leave to get vaccinated. $100 for the newly vaccinated. A possible COVID vaccine mandate for the military. Those are some of the new steps President Joe Biden is taking—or encouraging states and entities to take—in a deliberate effort to increase the numbers of Americans protected against COVID-19 via any of the three vaccines currently available in the United States.
About the military: Biden has asked the Defense Department to determine “how and when” the COVID-19 vaccine will become a requirement for service members, especially since a variety of vaccinations have been mandated for deployed troops for years (e.g., for Anthrax, which your D Brief-er’s former sergeant memorably likened to having peanut butter injected into his arm).
For federal employees, all of them—including the military and its contractors—will now “be asked to attest to their vaccination status,” the White House said in a statement accompanying the president’s remarks. Those unvaccinated feds (service members and military civilians included) also face the following requirements:
- They must “wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location”;
- Practice social distancing “from all other employees and visitors”;
- Take a COVID screening test at least once a week;
- And their official travel will be restricted so as to slow the spread of the virus.
Worth noting: The vaccine requirement is likely to be challenged under the Americans with Disabilities Act, HIPAA, or under various religious or medical rights, Defense One’s Tara Copp reported Thursday evening, citing a statement from the employment law firm Tully Rinckey.
Also challenging the new approach: The Lone Star state, where the Washington Post reports “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed an executive order Thursday prohibiting cities and other government entities in the state from enacting vaccine requirements or mask mandates, even as new daily infections there reached 13,000—the first time since February that Texas has reported a single-day caseload above 10,000.”
The Associated Press rounded up some outstanding questions about the new mandate, including will health insurance pay for testing the feds? As well, “How will agencies enforce a masking policy if not everyone is required to be vaccinated? Will supervisors patrol the cubicles with lists of the unvaccinated?” Read on, here.
For the record, 1.02 million service members have been fully vaccinated, which is roughly one-half of all active duty, reserves, and National Guard forces, according to Defense Department data as recent as July 28. And overall, “373 defense personnel—including 28 service members—have died from COVID-19 since the outbreak began,” Copp reports.
BTW: Defense companies aren’t mandating vaccines for their employees—at least not yet, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports.
Meanwhile, the latest national trends show COVID deaths rising 15% over the past two weeks, and new cases rising 151%, according to the New York Times.
“What is happening in America right now is a pandemic, a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” President Biden said Thursday afternoon from the East Room of the White House. “Last month, a study showed that over 99 percent of COVID-19 deaths had been among the unvaccinated—99 percent. This is an American tragedy. People are dying and will die who don't have to die.”
“This is not about red states and blue states,” said Biden. “It’s literally about life and death.” Biden went on to praise a variety of Republican leaders, including Senator Mitch McConnell and even Fox News, for their efforts encouraging skeptical Americans to get vaccinated.
“Folks, it’s an American blessing that we have vaccines for each and every American,” said Biden. “And it’s a shame—it’s just such a shame to squander that blessing.” Read over all of the White House’s new measures, assembled in one fact sheet, over here.
Elsewhere around the world, Australia’s military will help enforce a lockdown of Sydney beginning Monday, Reuters reports. And Philippine President Rody Duterte just ordered a lockdown from Aug. 6 until Aug. 20. (U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met Duterte on Thursday in Manila, and Austin complied with local requirements to wear both a mask and a face shield upon his arrival to the Philippine capital city. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called Austin’s deference to local rules “embarrassing COVID theater” in an antagonistic tweet Thursday.)
From Defense One
Sailor Charged With Setting USS Bonhomme Richard Fire // Caitlin M. Kenney: Preliminary hearing will lead to recommendation about a court martial.
AI Gives ‘Days of Advanced’ Warning in Recent NORTHCOM Networked Warfare Experiment // Patrick Tucker: A new test of information dominance concepts shows how rapid data sharing can accelerate warfare.
For US Troops, Getting COVID Vaccine Is Now a Matter of 'How and When' // Tara Copp: President tells Pentagon to add COVID to list of required vaccinations. He also encouraged federal employees and contractors to get vaccinated, and imposed new requirements on those who do not.
Wildfires Are So Dangerous Now that the National Guard Prepares for Them Like Hurricanes // Tara Copp: For West Coast units, there’s no wildfire season anymore. ‘It’s really a fire year now,’ top general says.
The Most Targeted Vulnerability of the Year Was First Identified in 2017 // Mariam Baksh: In a joint advisory, international cybersecurity officials say failure to patch years-old vulnerabilities makes attributing cyberattacks more difficult.
Defense Companies Not Weighing Vaccine Mandates, Yet // Marcus Weisgerber: There have been some informal discussions about requiring the shot.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.
The first group of Afghans and their families have arrived in the U.S. under Operation Allies Refuge, the White House announced Friday morning. “These arrivals are just the first of many as we work quickly to relocate SIV-eligible Afghans out of harm’s way—to the United States, to U.S. facilities abroad, or to third countries—so that they can wait in safety while they finish their visa applications,” President Biden said in a statement. “We will continue to support Afghanistan through security assistance to Afghan forces, as well as humanitarian and development aid to the Afghan people,” he added.
Biden also called for “an immediate reduction in violence in Afghanistan, and for all regional actors to encourage the parties to return to negotiations without delay so that the Afghan people can achieve a durable and just political settlement that brings the peace and security they deserve.”
The new arrivals will “join approximately 75,000 other Afghans who were previously resettled in the U.S. through the Special Immigrant Visa Program over the last decade,” SecDef Austin said in a statement Thursday evening. “We have spoken many times about the moral obligation we have to help those who have helped us, and we are fully committed to working closely with our interagency partners to meet that obligation.” Read on, here.
Also: Congress on Thursday afternoon passed a bill to allow 8,000 more visas for Afghans, as well as to repay the National Guard for protecting the Capitol, AP reports. The bill passed the Senate 98-0 and the House by a vote of 416-11. A bit more, here.
An unnamed sailor has been charged with setting the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard last July that burned for days and led to the decommissioning of the ship, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports.
Rewind: “The fire aboard the amphibious assault ship started July 12, 2020, while it was undergoing maintenance at Naval Base San Diego. It burned for four days before it was finally extinguished. The blaze burned through 11 of the ship’s 14 decks and destroyed its forward mast and superstructure. About 40 sailors and 23 civilians were treated for minor injuries. The Navy last November decided not to restore the ship, after an assessment determined it could cost more than $3 billion and take five to seven years to return it to usable condition.”
“A criminal investigation into the blaze revealed enough evidence to bring charges against the sailor, who was a member of the ship’s crew at the time of the fire,” Kenney writes. Continue reading, here.
And finally this week: Former Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin passed away Thursday at the age of 87, the Associated Press reported. Levin was a “respected voice on military issues,” AP writes, having spent many years on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Notably, he voted against sending U.S. troops to Iraq in 2002, though he did give a “cautious endorsement” to President Barack Obama’s 2009 plan to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan. RIP, sir. Read more, here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!