It’s been over a month since the Defense Department instituted a travel ban and issued new policy requiring social distancing wherever possible throughout the force, but the spread of coronavirus among troops continues unabated.
Since late March, the services have averaged between 100 and 200 new cases daily among service members. The most recent count, according to DoD’s data, shows 3,438 cases, up from 2,986 on Friday.
The infection rate among service members stands at 1,637-per-million as of Monday, compared with the overall U.S. rate of 2,283-per-million. With 22 deaths so far, DoD’s death rate is at 0.4 percent versus the overall U.S. rate of 5 percent.
Senior Defense officials have acknowledged that asymptomatic carriers could mean hundreds or thousands of unknown COVID-19 cases among the ranks, prompting a new push for more thorough testing.
“From a military perspective, we have to figure out how to use testing in ways to validate the readiness of our forces to deploy,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Friday. “Testing is going to become a critical part of that.”
Nowhere has that concern more starkly come to life than on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which has been pierside in Guam for more than three weeks. According to the Navy’s latest count, about 95 percent of the ship’s crew had been tested for COVID-19, with 678 positives.
More than half of those have either been asymptomatic or developed symptoms after testing, Hyten said. In other cases, sailors who originally tested negative were re-tested and found positive after developing symptoms.
DoD’s labs are able to test about 9,000 samples a day currently, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters Tuesday, but the department wants to grow that several times over.
“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 Joint Chiefs chairman, said.
More widespread testing, especially for deploying units and new recruits, would help the services get a handle on the virus’ spread.
As of Monday, the Navy is still far outpacing the other services in its diagnosed cases, thanks to thorough testing aboard TR. In total, they have 1,240 cases, up 22 percent over the weekend, from 1,017.
The Army is next, with 819 cases, up 13 percent from 726 on Friday. The Air Force added two cases over the weekend, coming to 330, while the Marine Corps added 14, for a total of 250.
The National Guard, which has mobilized tens of thousands of airmen and soldiers in support of local pandemic response efforts, has 672 cases as of Monday morning. Those grew 10 percent over the weekend, from 609.
Of those troops, 97 total have been hospitalized, while 859 have recovered.
So far, service members make up two of DoD’s overall deaths: a New Jersey Army National Guard soldier and a chief who had been part of the TR outbreak.
The remaining 17 deaths have back civilians, dependents and contractors ― 10, 3 and 7, respectively.
As of Monday, 837 civilians have tested positive for COVID-19, and that number has stayed level still Friday, with 204 recoveries so far; among dependents, there have been 702 cases, up 4 percent over the weekend from 675, with 161 recoveries; and among contractors, there are 358 cases, with seven new cases over the weekend, including 80 recoveries.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.