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DOD Responds to Uptick in COVID-19 Infections

Nov. 24, 2020 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

There is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, but DOD — like the United States as a whole — faces some tough times, Pentagon officials said today.

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Like the rest of the country, DOD has experienced a rise in the number of cases of COVID-19 and commanders are taking steps to stop the spread of the disease, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman, said during a press conference.

"We've seen a general uptick in COVID-19 positive cases as we head into the holiday season," he said. "We wanted to take this opportunity to re-emphasize the importance of taking preventive measures to mitigate against the spread of coronavirus, particularly following CDC guidelines."

These guidelines include wearing a mask, washing hands and maintaining a social distance of at least six feet. The DOD will adhere to these standards, Hoffman said. Part of the efforts against the coronavirus is upping protection at the Pentagon, for example, to health condition bravo plus. The move mirrored what many commanders in many bases around the world have done, Hoffman said. 

A person washes their hands.
Health Protection
A sailor cleans his hands in Silverdale, Wash., March 17, 2020. The Defense Department is implementing force health protection actions to ensure that our military is capable of performing its priority mission of homeland defense.
Photo By: 200317-N-DI108-0017
VIRIN: 200317-N-DI108-0017A

"These changes are based on authorities delegated in March, giving commanders the flexibility to respond in the best interest of their personnel by maintaining mission effectiveness," Hoffman said. "We will of course keep everyone posted on additional force condition level changes."

Hoffman also spoke about the progress in producing a vaccine against the virus that has killed more than 258,000 Americans. There are now three vaccines that have proven efficacious, and DOD officials are working with Operation Warp Speed to get the vaccines to the people who need them most. 

"We are now a significant step closer to ending the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "And in the coming weeks, Americans will begin to see vaccine distribution far and wide. The department continues to support this whole-of-government response and is immensely proud of the work that has gone into Warp Speed."

The first vaccines — by guidance of the Centers for Disease Control — will go to health care workers, and those particularly vulnerable to coronavirus. Hoffman said DOD officials are still working with CDC experts to determine where service members and their families fit in the priority list. 

Men stand at lecterns in the Pentagon briefing room.
COVID-19 Briefing
Pentagon officials brief the press on the on-going COVID-19 pandemic and DOD efforts to mitigate the disease's effects.
Photo By: Jim Garamone
VIRIN: 201124-D-FN314-001M

The mission for DOD with regards to COVID-19 has been stable since the beginning of the pandemic in February: the protection of the DOD workforce, the continuation of the DOD mission and to support the whole-of-government approach to combating the virus, said Ken Rapuano, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security.

DOD's primary support to the U.S. government response has been providing military medical personnel to augment civilian medical facilities in areas experiencing high COVID-19 hospitalization rates, Rapuano said. Today, there are more than 20,000 National Guardsmen deployed in 52 states and territories, providing COVID-19 support. DOD has military medical personnel on prepare-to-deploy orders available to support state and local requests. These medics could be in place in less than 48 hours from getting the call.

DOD personnel are working in El Paso, Texas, where COVID-19 has overwhelmed local efforts to cope with the sickness. There are also DOD personnel working in North Dakota and Guam.

A soldier conducting a COVID-19 test on another soldier.
Medical Services
Army Sgt. Carlos Mayfield, combat medic, 557th MCAS, 30th Medical Brigade, performs a nose swab test on Army Lt. Col. Jerry Wood, Jr., squadron commander, assigned to the 4th Squadron, 2d Cavalry Regiment, during the Noble Partner 20 exercise at the Vaziani military base training area in the Republic of Georgia, Sept. 10, 2020. Exercise Noble Partner is designed to enhance regional partnerships and increase U.S. force readiness and interoperability in a realistic, multinational training environment.
Photo By: Army Sgt. LaShic Patterson
VIRIN: 200910-A-YM380-1015M

DOD has also provided millions of N-95 masks to civilian first responders, more than seven million swab tests and almost 1,000 ventilators.

On the research and development front, DOD has spent almost 1.5 billion, Rapuano said.