The services have moved out on a tiered plan to test troops for coronavirus based on their job descriptions and their unit deployment plans, but in order to get a more complete picture of who in the armed forces has been infected, antibody tests are on their way.
And as part of that plan, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday, some of those who test positive could end up helping others, through donating plasma rich in COVID-19 antibodies.
“We may want to ask you to stick your arm out and donate blood,” he said during a senior leader town hall streamed live online.
As part of the Defense Department’s response to COVID-19, researchers directed by the Defense Health Agency have been tracking infection rates and asymptomatic transmission, as well as aiding in the research into therapies effective against the virus.
One of those possibilities is convalescent plasma therapy, an experimental treatment that could take blood product from COVID-19 survivors and inject it into those hospitalized for the virus, to help speed up recovery.
“We’ve started that, to collect those samples and do that,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Military Times on Wednesday.
At the front of the department’s mind is the continuing possibility for outbreaks on ships, and the hit to readiness when the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt had to pull into Guam amid an outbreak.
“If we can produce this and give you units of blood to take aboard ships and deploy, would you want that?” Esper said he had asked Navy officials. "They’re all [saying], ‘Yes, that would be helpful.’ "
Esper added that he had taken an antibody test weeks ago but not yet received the results.
More broad antibody testing is also making its way to the services, Milley said. Tier one testing units, which include special operations counter-terror units and nucler deterrence units in the Air Force and Navy nuclear weapons units, have already begun.