More than 4,100 service members have tested positive for coronavirus since the July 1, according to the Defense Department’s latest statistics, a rise of about 33 percent in the last 10 days. That is more than twice the rate of growth nationwide during the same period, 16 percent, as the U.S. more than once broke its daily records for new cases.
There were three new deaths, all of contractors or civilians, during this period as well.
Defense officials have attributed the recent rise in military cases both to increased testing and to the lifting of shelter-in-place orders in some force concentration areas, while expressing faith that local commanders are enforcing protective measures like social distancing and face covering for their troops.
“While we are seeing some upticks in the same places there are upticks in the civilian sector, again, that is not necessarily overly surprising, in that we have been doing more testing,” assistant defense secretary for health affairs Tom McCaffery told reporters July 1. “And we have been doing testing of those who are asymptomatic.”
The infection rate among service members is now 0.8 percent, compared to 0.9 nationwide. That is the closest the military’s infection rate has come to the general public’s in the U.S., and double what it was in mid-June.
These most recent calculations by Military Times reflect the period between July 1 and July 10, rather than the previous weekly calculations published every Friday. DoD did not post its updated numbers on July 3, despite its current Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule.
Officials have pointed to states with spiking infection rates as possible contributors to new cases.
“In general we are doing more testing, which can lead to more positive cases, which prompts more testing,” Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Malinda Singleton told Military Times in late June. “Many of our installations are in current hotspots (Texas, Arizona, Florida), which is also leading to an increase in positive cases.”
At the time, the Air Force had just seen a 44-percent spike over the previous week. Since July 1, cases have jumped 55 percent, putting that service at 2,395 total cases since March.
Once boasting the lowest-per-capita infection rate among the services, the Air Force’s recent rise in cases has brought it more into proportion with the size of the service. The Marine Corps, too, which had infections in the hundreds well into June, saw a 41-percent increase in its cases since July 1, for a current total of 1,770.
The Navy, which for months had the majority of the military’s cases, grew by 25 percent in the past week-and-a-half, to 4,591 total. The Army, with more than twice the personnel of the Navy and Air Force, has reported 5,311 infection, a 38-percent increase since July 1.
“We would be concerned with any identification of new infections, but we are taking the same measures that the public health community writ large would take,” McCaffery said that day, including isolation and contact tracing after every positive test.
It was not clear, however, whether local commanders were enforcing strict protective protocols for their troops both on and off base.
While service members are required to socially distance and wear a face covering while on military property, their behavior out in town ― including localities where masks aren’t required and bars, restaurants and beaches have been packed ― has not been universally regulated.
The Navy, for its part, has banned a number of public places, via order from Fleet Forces Command.
Those include beaches, swimming pools, tattoo shops, theaters, salons/spas, restaurants, bars and a long list of others.
The National Guard, which has activated troops in response to COVID-19, nationwide protests and natural disasters this year, has seen lower rates of infection overall. So far 2,395 Guardsmen have tested positive, with a 16-percent increase since July 1.
In total, the services have reported 16,637 positive tests. Of those 381 have been hospitalized, 7,011 have recovered and three have died.
Department-wide, cases are up 32 percent since July 1.
Of 3,452 cases among civilians, with an increase of 31 percent, 218 have been hospitalized, 1,371 have recovered and 23 have died.
Among dependents, there have been 2,212 cases so far, with a 27-percent increase. Of those, 85 have been hospitalized, 1,043 have recovered and five have died.
And in the contractor community, 1,541 have tested positive ― a 32-percent jump ― 106 have been hospitalized, 603 have recovered and 10 have died.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.