Editor’s note: This story has been updated with official statements confirming previous reporting.
The first case of COVID-19 has appeared at the home of two of the military’s top commands.
An active sailor assigned to U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, is currently undergoing evaluation and treatment following a positive novel coronavirus test, the command said Saturday morning in a media release.
The sailor is believed to have contracted COVID-19 during recent travel and came back to Tampa on March 15. The sailor did not go to MacDill, instead immediately entering precautionary quarantine at his home. He did not return to MacDill until March 18, when he began developing symptoms. He called ahead to the Macdill Health Clinic, and was met outside the facility by medical professionals for his test.
His test returned positive on March 20 and will receive "all appropriate medical care and treatment, Navy Capt. Bill Urban, CENTCOM’s spokesman, said in the media release.
“We are committed to taking every measure possible to protect the health of our force," Urban said in the release. "We remain in close coordination with state and federal authorities, and public health authorities to ensure the well-being of our personnel and the local population.”
Home of the GWOT
Aside from CENTCOM, MacDill is home to U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees training and equipping of commandos and coordinates a global fight against extremism.
The base hosts several other headquarters that play important roles in ongoing operations, like Special Operations Command Central, which oversees commando operations in the places where most of operators operate.
Marine Forces Central Command provides thousands of Marines to serve in CENTCOM region.
The Joint Communications Support Element provides secure and durable communications systems and equipment for the forward deployed. They are often the first troops on scene of a disaster or operation.
Naval Operations Support Center Tampa provides training and readiness for Florida’s Reserve sailors.
But at it’s heart, MacDill is an Air Force Base, built up in the days before Pearl Harbor and the place where crews went to learn to fly bombers, like the B-17 Flying Fortress or the B-26 Marauder.
“From 1942-45, many thousands of American men passed through MacDill’s gates to train as bomber pilots or crew members and then quickly moved on to other military assignments, eventually destined for the deadly fight raging over Europe’s skies,” reads the base history. “Following the end of hostilities in Europe, MacDill began to train crews of the B-29 Superfortress in January 1945, which lasted through 1953.”
The base is now home to the 6th and 927th Air Refueling Wings — which fly the venerable KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refuelers.
There are also military personnel from about 50 other countries assigned to work with CENTCOM as part of an international coalition fighting extremists in the region and many others at SOCOM as part of their J3I international program.
The military is seeing a steady rise in cases daily.
Earlier Friday, March 20, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. commander of CENTCOM, presented new guidelines for how the command overseeing operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and 17 other countries will operate.
“This is to help protect your health and to preserve our critical ability to conduct command and control of forces deployed to our region.Social Distancing is a priority,” he said, according to a transcript on the military’s video distribution network.
McKenzie said CENTCOM personnel will "maximize the use of alternate locations, tele-work, and shift work. "Because no two J-Dirs are the same; you WILL see differences in how each J-DIR maintains their functions while striving to protect everyone’s health."
VTCs and teleconferences will replace in-person meetings, leaders will remain physically separated, “and we’ve closed the gym, the Vince Café, and prohibited food trucks on the CENTCOM campus.”
MacDill Air Force Base remains in Health Protection Condition Level Bravo.
“Right now we have one confirmed case of COVID-19 on our installation,” Air Force Col. Stephen Snelson, the base commander, said in a statement on the base Facebook page.
“The safety of our airmen, families and employees is our top priority. We will continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure we do everything we can to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and ensure our Airmen, families and employees here have the most up-to-date information on appropriate measures to prevent the potential spread of the virus.”
As of Friday morning, there were 67 service members battling COVID-19, according to Pentagon data. Additionally, there are 15 DoD civilians, 26 dependents and 16 contractors who have tested positive.
That’s about a 31-percent jump for troops — 51 cases were reported yesterday — and more than a 60-percent jump for dependents over Thursday’s totals. The military health system had tested more than 1,500 samples as of Thursday.