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DOD Modeling for Coronavirus Helps With Response Planning

March 25, 2020 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

Though Defense Department modeling of the COVID-19 virus isn't quite robust enough yet to determine where the next outbreak will happen, the modeling is good enough now for general planning efforts, the Joint Staff surgeon said.

A woman in civilian clothes and a man in uniform stand behind lecterns.
Conference Duo
Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah and Joint Staff Surgeon Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs brief reporters at the Pentagon on the department’s COVID-19 response efforts, March 25, 2020.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 200325-D-BN624-0131Y

"Right now, the modeling that we're able to do is for planning, but it is not yet sufficiently firm to say that it's predictive in nature," Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs told reporters at the Pentagon today. "We've not tried to predict that we’re going to see a hotspot here, or we're going to see X number there. We used it for broad planning. Like in the community, if the outbreak occurs and X percent of people are infected over time, what does that mean as far as health care requirements?"

Friedrichs said information sharing among nations that have been afflicted by the coronavirus is increasing the value of data and that this additional data may soon make it possible to build predictive models.

"The good news is our allies in Korea and in Italy and in Europe are sharing data very transparently with us, and we're building a much more robust database," he said. "I think in another few weeks we'll have better fidelity on that data."

The modeling now available on the coronavirus and the resulting cases of COVID-19 is used to decide where best to place the Defense Department's medical resources, the Joint Staff surgeon said.

A military member operates a forklift to move a palette of boxes.
Forklift Transport
A Connecticut National Guard soldier uses a forklift to transport a pallet of portable beds and linen to a tractor-trailer truck for distribution to mobile field hospitals, March 25, 2020. The beds were supplied by the state's Department of Public Health and are intended to assist with the state's effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Timothy Koster, Army
VIRIN: 200325-A-UQ901-017
Supplies are loaded onto a ship.
Supply Load
Personnel board and load supplies onto the USNS Comfort at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. March 24, 2020, in support of the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Sheppard
VIRIN: 200324-N-PW494-0475M

"The approach that we've taken, as we do our modeling and as we look at where to place capabilities, is based on how do we balance the immediate needs, either for a DOD population, or as in the case of New York — where we're sending the [hospital ship USNS] Comfort and two of our field hospitals — the needs of other citizens and supporting that whole-of-government approach," Friedrichs said. "It is a balancing act, there's no question about it. Our health care system across the United States is not designed or sized to deal with a pandemic."

A soldier kneels outside a tent.
Tent Work
A member of the 2nd Governor's Horse Guard inspects the outer shell of the mobile field hospital that members of the 1st and 2nd Governor's Foot Guard constructed in the parking lot of Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, Conn., March 24, 2020.
Photo By: Timothy Koster, Army
VIRIN: 200324-A-UQ901-068

Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah said Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper released guidance to raise the health protection condition, or HPCON, across the department, to HPCON Charlie. That level limits installation access to essential personnel and reduces the number of installation access points that are open.

Farah said the move to HPCON Charlie also includes measures such as going to maximum telework, cancellation of large-scale meetings, and taking people's temperature at certain access points within buildings. "This will vary from installation to installation," she said. "But these are concrete measures we can be taking now to stop the spread, lower the curve."

The press secretary said these actions are designed to protect DOD's people and their families. "The department will take every step necessary to ensure the wellness of our service members, civilians and families," she said. "Further guidance as it relates to the safety and health of our workforce will be coming soon."