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Second service member dies of COVID-19 as cases among troops surge to over 2,500

To date, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of an aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt sailor and a New Jersey Army National Guardsmen, along with 13 others, according to the latest Defense Department data.

Among those are six civilians, two dependents and five contractors, holding DoD’s mortality rate at 0.3 percent compared to the overall U.S. rate of 4 percent. The infection rate among troops is now 1,222-per-million, compared to 1,607-per-million of U.S. residents, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Numbers.

Of the military’s 2,557, 999 of those are in the Navy, as of early Monday morning. With about 92-percent of TR’s crew tested for coronavirus as of Sunday afternoon, the 585 positive sailors aboard that ship made up more than half of the Navy’s cases.

Many of those positive tests came from asymptomatic sailors, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Thursday.

“What we’ve learned certainly in the Navy, with regard to COVID-19,” Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, the Navy’s surgeon general, told reporters the following day. “We’re learning that stealth, in the form of asymptomatic transmission, is this adversary’s secret power.”

The TR is unique among military commands during the coronavirus pandemic, as a cluster aboard the ship prompted universal testing for the crew. At latest count, more than 10 percent of the carrier’s 4,800 sailors tested positive.

That has not been the protocol for other units with confirmed cases, and a senior DoD health official told Military Times Friday that there are no plans for more extensive testing among troops.

“The constraint of the current testing technology is, you may test negative, but the testing is not so accurate to say that you know that person is negative,” Thomas McCaffery, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said. “We do know that we have folks who are asymptomatic, who may have tested negative, who are infected.”

But testing resources are in short supply, he added, so it is DoD’s policy not to test asymptomatic troops.

“In that environment we want to make sure we devote those finite resources to the highest priority,” he said.

With over 100,000 more personnel than the Navy, the Army is the second hardest hit service, with 523 cases, following by the Air Force at 288 and the Marine Corps at 203.

The National Guard, made up of Army and Air Force personnel, is reporting 513 cases. Of those, about 150 are among the roughly 30,000 Guard troops who have been mobilized in support of pandemic response.

“It’s important to note that those activated members were serving in a variety of roles,” Master Sgt. Michael Houk told Military Times. “Whenever the National Guard performs duties that require public interaction, appropriate [personal protective equipment] and safety measures are in place. Those measures include isolating critical personnel, dividing units into separate cohorts, and aggressively following CDC recommendations.”

DoD’s total 4,528 cases include: 2,567 troops, 76 of whom are currently hospitalized, with 372 recoveries; 597 civilians, with 47 hospitalizations and 83 recoveries; 491 dependents, with 19 hospitalizations and 96 recoveries; and 270 contractors with 24 hospitalizations and 37 recoveries.

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