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With a TR sailor in the ICU, this is how the military’s coronavirus infection rate is affecting readiness

Nearly 2,000 troops have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of Thursday, according to the latest Defense Department data, bringing the military’s infection rate to 903-per-million.

But so far, according to defense officials, readiness hasn’t taken a hit, despite a reduction in training, exercises and one sidelined aircraft carrier.

“The readiness in the force in the aggregate has not dropped as we’ve gone through this,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Thursday, adding that there are some “some pockets where we have issues.”

One of those is the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which moved up a Guam port call last week and has been testing and evacuating thousands of sailors into hotels, barracks and other housing on the island.

On Thursday morning, one of those sailors in isolation was found unresponsive in his housing and taken to a nearby hospital, officials confirmed. Medical professionals have been checking on TR sailors every 12 hours while they’re in isolation.

Roughly 400 TR sailors have tested positive for COVID-19, Hyten said, with 3,800 out of 4,800 tested so far. That cluster accounts for much of the Navy’s 597 total cases.

As of Thursday morning, the Army is reporting 389, the Air Force 367, and the Marine Corps 164, in addition to 381 airmen and soldiers with the National Guard.

Though some Guardsmen have been diagnosed since being mobilized in response to the pandemic, Guard bureau chief Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel told Military Times on Wednesday, he could not confirm how many might have contracted the virus while activated in support of their states.

With eight total deaths so far, DoD is holding at an overall 0.3 percent mortality rate, compared to the U.S. rate of just over 3 percent. the overall U.S. infection rate is 1,208-per-million, or 0.1 percent.

Of 1,785 current cases among troops, 3.6 percent are hospitalized, and 113 more have recovered. Of 312 current civilian cases, 15 percent are hospitalized and 36 more have recovered. Among dependents, 335 current cases include 4 percent hospitalized, with another 42 who have recovered. And among contractors, 8 percent of 182 current cases are requiring hospitalization, while an additional 14 have recovered.

Not going away

Despite some reductions in operations, senior Pentagon officials have stressed that troops are prepared to fight if necessary.

“Our readiness is still very high, and no one should doubt the readiness of the U.S. military,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a senior leader town hall broadcast Thursday.

Though leaders have stressed that TR could get underway if it absolutely needed to, it is in port out of “an abundance of caution,” Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist told reporters Thursday.

And it’s unlikely to be an anomaly, Hyten said.

“From my perspective, I think it’s not a good idea to think that the Teddy Roosevelt is a one-of-a-kind issue,” he said. “To think that it will never happen again is not a good way to plan.”

In fact, another outbreak has already started. The carrier Nimitz, which is in its Naval Base Kitsap, Washington, home port and preparing for deployment, reported one crew member with positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. Elsewhere on that base, a carrier Carl Vinson sailor also tested positive, though officials could not confirm when the sailor had been on board the ship.

The process to trace possible contact with other crew and members of the community is underway.

As the pandemic wears on, Hyten said, senior leadership is looking at how it the military can continue to operate as the infection rate continues to grow and eventually starts to subside.

In addition to cutting back on training and exercises, all four services have throttled the number of recruits coming in to their initial training.

“What that does is we expect thousands of people to come into the military every week … that’s now cut back,” Hyten said. “For a short period of time that’s not a big issue, but if that continues long, then all of the sudden our [manning] numbers come down.”

Though the military’s infection rate is not much lower than the general U.S. population’s, senior officials are taking comfort in the fact that its hospitalization and death rates are vastly smaller.

Officials could not, however, provide a projected peak for service member infections, the way states and major cities have predicted their worst periods throughout this month.

But, Norquist told Military Times, they are monitoring those local timelines and preparing for the hits accordingly.

“We are going to need to change and adapt, because even over the coming months, the virus isn’t going to go away,” Norquist said.

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