On the day that U.S. Forces Korea announced that the first service member diagnosed with COVID-19 — a 23-year-old soldier stationed at Camp Carroll, South Korea — the latest Defense Department numbers show that about 20 percent of the nearly 3,000 troops diagnosed so far have recovered.
For the first time, according to Defense Department data, the number of new recoveries among troops — 155 — exceeded the number of new cases — about 100.
With 2,889 troops recorded, with 2,288 cases still active, the infection rate among troops is 1,376-per-million, or 0.1 percent. Among the U.S. population, 1,851-per-million have been infected, or 0.2 percent. The military’s hospitalization rate is 3 percent, while the mortality rate is statistically nearly zero, compared to the overall U.S. rate of 4 percent.
As cases continue to grow, the military is grappling with the issue of asymptomatic carriers, creating a situation where the virus is spreading and there aren’t enough testing kits to cover everyone, even in situations where a unit has a confirmed diagnosis.
“What we’ve learned certainly in the Navy, with regard to COVID-19. We’re learning that stealth, in the form of asymptomatic transmission, is this adversary’s secret power,” Read Adm. Bruce Gillingham, the Navy’s surgeon general, told reporters on Friday.
As testing aboard the stricken aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt starts to wrap up, the Navy’s surging coronavirus cases have begun to level off. Of 983 total cases, 665 are sailors assigned to TR, according to the Navy’s latest data.
More than half of those were asymptomatic when tested, Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed earlier this week.
“We’ve got an objective here of ramping that up to about 60,000 tests in about 45 days or so,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Military Times on Tuesday, up from the current 9,000-a-day capacity.
The Army is the second hardest-hit service, with 717 cases among the active duty and Reserve forces as of Thursday. The Air Force reports 317 cases, following by the Marine Corps’ 229. In the National Guard, where 50,000 soldiers and airmen are deployed in support of local pandemic response efforts, 573 troops have contracted coronavirus.
Overall, DoD’s death rate is 0.4 percent, with 2 service members, nine civilians, three dependents and five contractors having died of COVID-19 complications. The 19 total deaths is an increase of two from Wednesday.
A midweek misreporting of the Army’s numbers caused the service to drop 200 cases from Tuesday to Wednesday, but data corrected for Thursday’s release shows that 2,889 service members total have been diagnosed with COVID-19, including roughly 100 more cases ― or a 4-percent daily bump, as has been the pattern this week ― in the past 24 hours.
Among civilians, cases have risen from 669 to 817, including a 22-percent jump since Wednesday. The dependent number grew by 130, from 523 to 653, or 25 percent. The contractor number now sits at 336, up 11 percent with 35 new cases in the last 24 hours.
Within those groups, 163, 155 and 38, respectively, have recovered.
Recovery, in the case of the South Korea-based soldier, meant a full week without symptoms, a normal temperature reading without fever-reducing medication and two negative COVID-19 tests, administered 24 hours apart.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.