To date, 49 service members across all four Defense Department branches have tested positive for COVID-19, according to data released Wednesday. Of those, seven have made a fully recovery and just three are hospitalized.
Troops make up more than half of DoD’s affiliated cases, according to the data, with 14 civilians, 19 dependents and seven contractors also infected. Though none have so far recovered, 11 are hospitalized while the rest are in self-isolation at home.
“What we’re trying very hard to do is not scare people by saying everybody is at risk, because that’s not true,” Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon, told reporters on March 4. “It’s just not true.”
While commands in hard-hit countries like Korea and Italy have taken steps to limit the virus’s spread and travel bans across DoD are keeping troops and families in place, some are looking to the Pentagon to take action on the civilian side as well.
Up to 5 million N95 breathing masks and 2,000 ventilators are coming out of military stockpiles to support requests by the Health and Human Services Department, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Tuesday.
DoD also has 14 labs around the world now set up to analyze coronavirus tests, he added.
Though New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called on the Pentagon to tap the Army Corps of Engineers to build hospitals to accommodate a surge in intensive care patients.
“My hunch is, it would probably be quicker it was done at the state and local level,” Esper said, pointing out that the organization is a go-between for funding and contracting, but that it doesn’t physically build anything with its own personnel.
So far 18 states have activated their own National Guard units to help with getting supplies to their residents, mobile testing centers and other support, but Pentagon leaders have warned of the consequences of widespread activation, particularly of medical units that are generally manned by troops who work in health care in their civilian careers.
“Those are the sorts of analyses weren’t going through right now to figure out what we can do,” Friedrichs said. “The challenge with that…is if you mobilize the Guard and Reserve from their civilian jobs, they’re no longer in their civilian jobs.”
Esper has echoed that sentiment, cautioning against leaning on the military for services before tapping out local and state capacity.
“I think, in some ways, we want to be the last resort,” he said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.