last updated April 15, 2020 6:00 PM EDT

 

Coronavirus: Rumor Control

 

As the Defense Department assists in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's also important to help distinguish between rumors and facts.

Rumors can easily circulate within communities during a crisis, and we can stop the spread of disinformation by always choosing trusted sources of information such as:

State and local government official websites or social media accounts are also good sources for instruction and information specific to your community. Check out the myth-busting section below to separate fact from fiction.

Myth: Military medical facilities are not providing services such as routine appointments and are closing pharmacies.

Fact: In line with the rest of the nation, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs initially released a policy on March 24, 2020, postponing all elective surgeries and procedures to conserve personal protective equipment, optimize available medical staff for response to COVID-19 patient care requirements, and protect patients. That policy provided exceptions for those procedures which would impact deployability and readiness of military personnel and when delaying treatment would increase the risk to a level that the physician determined was unacceptable.

While the initial postponement was throughout the Military Health System, we understand that conditions moving forward are changing at different rates in different areas. The guidance signed on May 19, 2020, aligns the resumption of elective procedures with the department's health protection condition (HPCON) framework and the administration’s guidelines for “Opening Up America Again.” We encourage any beneficiary with questions to contact their local Medical Treatment Facility or Dental Treatment Facility.

You can still continue to get prescriptions at military pharmacies as long as the military pharmacy is open. Individual military treatment facilities may make decisions based on local guidance. It is recommended that you call to verify hours of operation before leaving home and follow social distancing guidelines. Many have expanded to offer curb-side pick-up. Home delivery and network pharmacies are options you can choose if the military pharmacy closes. There are currently no supply issues at any of our pharmacies. You should be able to fill or refill your prescriptions as you normally would.

The department continues to encourage the use of virtual care, when appropriate, and maintains the previously identified exceptions to policy for maintaining readiness, deployability, and patient safety.

Myth: The U.S. Military has been slow to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and should be doing more to support the civilian response.

Fact: DOD must balance safeguarding our national security with assisting the whole of government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting service members ensures they are able to support DOD’s primary mission of defending the homeland while also responding to the nation’s crisis. DOD issued Force Protection Guidance for the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak on January 30 to ensure our service members and their families, as well as our civilians and contract employees, take proper health precautions to protect themselves and others.

DOD is focused on providing military manpower and equipment – both capacity and capability – to state and local authorities to help combat COVID-19. U.S. Northern Command, in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is leading the DOD response to COVID-19 efforts in the continental United States and has confronted the pandemic head-on since the virus outbreak, collaborating with interagency partners to strengthen our collective defense against the virus and save American lives. In late January, DOD began supporting the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to help house the first groups of civilians evacuated from overseas in requested military facilities, and on March 9, DOD began housing American passengers of the Grand Princess cruise ship at installations in California, Texas and Georgia.

To safeguard DOD personnel and slow the spread of COVID-19 between different communities, DOD implemented travel restrictions on March 11, which included all forms of official travel, including permanent change of station, temporary duty, and government-funded leave. DOD deployed the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort to Los Angeles and New York and established the largest hospital in the United States at the Javits Center with 2,500 beds. More than 800 alternate care facilities throughout the U.S. have been assessed and numerous construction projects are underway to assist with the overflow of patients in those hard hit areas. In addition, DOD has activated over 45,000 National Guardsmen, and 15,000 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are engaged in response efforts. DOD continues to support DHHS and FEMA with equipment and capabilities, including making available personal protection equipment and other medical supplies to agencies responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.

See the complete DOD COVID-19 response timeline at the DOD Response Timeline.

Myth: DOD isn’t being transparent about the number of personnel who have been infected with COVID-19.

Fact: As we continue to grapple with the novel nature of COVID-19, we are constantly assessing and adapting not only how we respond to combating the virus, but also how we share critical public health information with our communities. The Department of Defense will continue to balance transparency in this crisis with operations security. Therefore, the Department of Defense has issued department-wide guidance to ensure continued public reporting of DOD personnel who have tested positive for COVID-19 through the responsible military service. The services will each provide a daily public update of COVID-19 cases. Additionally, the Department of Defense will continue to offer a public daily update of the full number of cases in all services and of civilians, contractors and dependents.

As people around the world confront this growing crisis, and out of a concern for operations security with regard to readiness, DOD will not report the aggregate number of service member cases at individual units, bases or combatant commands.

Myth: U.S. service members visiting China were the source of the coronavirus outbreak.

Fact: Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, along with senior U.S. Administration officials, have repeatedly denounced the Chinese government’s efforts to deflect responsibility for downplaying the threat early on, as well as its lack of transparency during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, as being irresponsible and unhelpful with combating the pandemic the world is facing today. "...if the Chinese government had been more transparent early on -- and we’re talking late fall, December at least -- we would all -- all of us, all the nations in the world would have been able to get our arms around this and contain it in China where it began, and prevent its propagation around the world. But to have somebody … from the Chinese government come out and make a statement like that’s completely ridiculous and it’s irresponsible, and it doesn’t get us to where we need to be," said Dr. Mark T. Esper, Secretary of Defense, in response to questions about U.S. service members being responsible for the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Myth: Commissary deliveries are affected worldwide causing product shortages.

Fact: Deliveries to commissaries in the U.S. are not being impeded by any government agency; however, shipping delays have been a widespread issue for the entire grocery industry during the pandemic. Commissaries are ordering additional products, but the commercial supply chain is having trouble keeping up with increased demand. Consumer demand has recently been exceptionally high – especially for grocery, household cleaning, and some healthcare products. Although the availability of products at commissaries is often better than commercial grocers in the surrounding communities, paper products, hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, and cleaning supplies are in low supply due to panic buying. The Defense Commissary Agency states each commissary will manage purchase limitations, if necessary, at the local level. Also, commissary “early bird” shopping hours have been suspended to allow more time for restocking and daily cleaning.

Industry partners are assisting daily in procuring and preparing items for shipments to Japan, Korea, and Europe via air and sealift. Deliveries are being increased to overseas commissaries, including shipments of high demand items such as hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes. Multiple shipments have been airlifted to the Pacific on high-demand items to supplement the stock in the central distribution centers and support to stores.

Myth: COVID-19 has decreased DOD’s readiness and ability to defend against adversaries exploiting this crisis.

Fact: The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the great global challenges of our time. Protecting our people has remained a DOD priority from the start. We must take prudent measures to limit COVID-19’s spread, while also ensuring our service members are ready to defend the nation. As we aggressively respond to the outbreak, DOD remains prepared to carry out our core national security mission and essential functions. We will not hesitate to modify our security posture around the world whenever necessary. We will ensure our forward deployed troops receive the support and resources needed to accomplish their missions. We are confident that we are able to presently employ our forces at the current readiness levels without degradation. At the same time, we will continue to support the whole-of-nation response to the coronavirus, protecting our service members and their families as well as DOD civilians, contractors, and Americans. "Together, we are doing what the Department has done throughout its entire history adapting, innovating, and demonstrating why the American people call on the United States military during the most trying times."

- Secretary Esper, Message to the Force: COVID-19 Response, March 27, 2020

Myth: The DOD is not utilizing the Defense Production Act.

Fact: On March 19, the president invoked aspects of the Defense Production Act (DPA), and most recently, The White House announced that President Donald Trump is invoking the Defense Production Act to clear up supply-chain issues encountered in the manufacturing of ventilators and to ensure the production of additional N95 face masks. DOD remains fully engaged to leverage segments of the DPA to help reinforce critical elements of the defense industry base such as: priority-rate defense contracts and allocating materials in a way that best meets the warfighter needs; and partnering with industry to strengthen commercial industrial base capabilities essential to national defense. DLA has placed orders for additional ventilators and other medical material and continues to work with industry, DOD, and the U.S. Government efforts to increase industrial capacity and ensure medical supply availability for the United States. We will actively work with industry and our government partners to ensure these authorities are used where needed in concert with the whole-of-government approach to combat the coronavirus.

See the complete DOD COVID-19 response timeline at the DOD Response Timeline.

Source: March 25, 2020 Under Secretary Lord press briefing

Myth: There is no mechanism in place for companies who would like to volunteer their services to DOD to help with the COVID-19 effort.

Fact: There are several resources for companies that wish to donate or sell medical supplies needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. To see the different options and other important information about the DOD’s response to COVID-19 and the acquisition process visit the DOD Industrial Policy page.

Myth: The U.S. military is implementing martial law.

Fact: Remarks by Secretary Esper in a press briefing on the COVID-19 response, March 23, 2020: "... the president has approved mobilizing National Guard troops under Title 32 status, which provides them full access to federal resources, but still allows them to be managed by the state government. To be clear, this is not a move toward martial law, as some have erroneously claimed. Our great National Guard troops are performing tasks such as supporting drive-through testing sites, conducting food delivery to protect vulnerable populations, and helping states plan and coordinate their local responses. Allowing states to maintain control over their National Guard forces is the most effective way to manage their efforts, as it permits each governor to tailor the Guard’s activities to best support the needs of their state."

Chief of the National Guard Bureau Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel press teleconference on the COVID-19 response, March 22, 2020: "There is no truth to this rumor that people are conspiring, that governors are planning, that anyone is conspiring to use the National Guard, mobilized or not, Title 32 or state, to do military action to enforce shelter in place or quarantines."

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