Pentagon & Congress

Pentagon issues guidance to service members on coronavirus

The Pentagon has released an advisory about how service members can reduce the risk of catching the coronavirus, after the State Department issued a travel advisory to not travel to China where the virus originated.

The Pentagon said Department of Defense personnel who have returned from China in the last two weeks — or have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus and are having symptoms like a fever — should receive medical attention immediately, per recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Service members also should not travel while ill and call their doctor’s office or emergency room before they arrive and explain their travel and symptoms, the memo said. The guidance also advised service members to receive a flu vaccine and avoid exposure to the virus by taking standard precautions, like thorough hand washing.

The Pentagon said that commanders of “individually affected geographic commands” will share more specific guidance to those within their command.

Additionally, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that the Pentagon is monitoring the spread of the virus and it coordinating with interagency partners to safeguard U.S. troops and their families.

"I approved a directive apprising our forces about precautions they should take, how to recognize the signs and symptoms of the virus," Esper said in a statement Friday. "The Department of Defense continues to work closely with our interagency partners as we monitor the situation and protect our service members and their families, which is my highest priority."

On Friday, the State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory instructing individuals to not travel to China and the World Health Organization announced that the virus is a global health emergency.

“Those currently in China should consider departing using commercial means,” the State Department said in the advisory. “The Department of State has requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel to China in light of the novel coronavirus.”

Nearly 10,000 people have contracted the virus in the past two months, according to the Associated Press. Additionally, there have been more than 200 deaths resulting from the illness.

210 evacuees from Wuhan, China, arrived at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California on Wednesday. The evacuees, who were medically evaluated for the virus and participated in a three-day quarantine, were U.S. State Department employees and their family members.

On Thursday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., compared the virus to Chernobyl, the 1986 Russian nuclear disaster.

“This coronavirus is a catastrophe on the scale of Chernobyl for China,” Cotton said. “But actually, it’s probably worse than Chernobyl, which was localized in its effect. The coronavirus could result in a global pandemic.”

U.S. Africa Command commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said Thursday he wasn’t aware of any confirmed cases in countries within AFRICOM’s area of operations, but admitted that there are some suspected cases.

“The first report of a suspected case I’ve heard of is in Djibouti, which you would imagine with the significant Chinese presence there,” Townsend told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

China opened a military base in Djibouti in 2017 near Camp Lemonnier where the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa of the U.S. Africa Command is based.

Townsend and Adm. Craig Faller, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, said the ability for countries to combat the virus varies significantly within their areas of operations.

“I’d be very concerned if we saw this spread,” Faller told lawmakers Thursday.

Meanwhile, U.S. Forces Korea shared a warning on Facebook that a man from Pyeongtaek near Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base was diagnosed with the virus. More than 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

The 374th Medical Group based out of Yokota Air Base in Japan also cautioned troops to be on alert for coronavirus symptoms following a reported case in Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture where Yokosuka Naval Base, Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Camp Zama are located.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Military Times.

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