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Army Leadership Press Briefing on COVID-19 Response Efforts

SECRETARY OF THE ARMY RYAN D. MCCARTHY:   OK, so what I'll do is, for all of the folks on the phones, this is Ryan McCarthy, Secretary of the Army. I'm here with Gen. James McConville, our chief of staff; Sgt. Maj. of the Army Tony Grinston; Lt. Gen. Scottie Dingle, Surgeon General of the Army; Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, chief of Corps of Engineers; and Lt. Gen. Charlie Flynn, director of Operations and Strategic Plans, Department of the Army.

And I'll start off with some opening comments and then we'll just do an open up Q&A to answer any of your questions.  We’ve got to get out of here no later than about 1600 and get back to the office.  So with that, let me just make a couple of remarks.

So thanks for coming.  We are trying to bring an update on the COVID-19 response efforts to protect our people, maintain mission readiness and support the whole of government effort.  We plan to provide these updates as routinely as we can.  We'll just work out a rhythm that's appropriate.

Our goal is to be as transparent as possible and keep an open line of communication about what the Army is doing to meet the intent of the Secretary of Defense and the president.  As of 1900, on 19 March, currently the U.S. Army has 45 cases.  This number includes 21 soldiers, six D.A. civilians, eight family members and 10 contractors.

Responding in times of crisis, helping restore peace in times of chaos and organizing against a threat is what the Army does best.  We have 191,000 soldiers operating on missions worldwide and must preserve our ability to meet the needs of the nation.

This means that we are ensuring that those overseas including their unique geographic constraints and operation considerations for force health protection.  We are altering exercises, training and our current day-to-day operations to ensure safety for all.

To meet the intent of the Secretary of Defense, the Army is aligned against three lines of effort – prevent, detect and treat.  To prevent the spread of virus, we must adhere to the social distancing guidelines from the CDC, such as quarantine and hand washing.

The Army is a people organization.  We're used to eating together, working out in the same areas and being in horseshoe formations.  Leaders, we must change our behavior and prevent the spread of the virus.  This isn't forever, but it's the reality of now. 

We look to examples of Gen. Roger Cloutier commanding in Italy and Gen. Abe Abrams commanding in Korea, who have effectively stopped the virus from spreading by taking proper and aggressive measures.  We cannot be more proud of their actions. 

We have top world-class scientists that are working on the coronavirus vaccine, such as Dr. Nelson Michael and Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, who are all former colleagues of Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield, which helps bring tremendous collaboration to all of our efforts.

Our organizations, such as the Medical Research and Development Command, are rapidly researching and experimenting with the vaccine and currently in test in small, large animal models.  The Army is collaborating with the private sector and other government entities on five tracks of the vaccine with two dozen candidates, some that are heading towards human testing.

We need to compile as much extensive information as possible to combat this current virus.  On the detection front, our organization, in concert with external entities, are working rapidly to increase the throughput of testing.

With a widened aperture, we can test our force at a higher rate.  The Army has nine medical treatment facilities with clinical laboratories certified to conduct COVID-19 testing.  Our surge capacity will increase because they are working supplemental funding and the utilization of the Defense Production Act.

Today -- we are currently at 810 samples per day and have concepts in place to get us north of 16,000 per day as we procure additional instrumentation. For the treat line of effort, the Army Corps of Engineers is working with state governments in 13 states and we'll reach 18 by this evening to provide planning and concept development on behalf of FEMA to increase bed space and support the augmentation of enhanced medical response.

In addition, installation hospitals are recalibrating screening protocols to be able to rapidly assess and treat patients while working towards increasing capacity for larger volumes of infections if needed.  We have received the be prepared mission to respond and should the need arise to surge additional medical support, we are ready.

Additionally, we are working through the second and third order effects of the impact COVID-19 and the subsequent responses.  Realize you don't have to be infected to be affected by the virus, and we understand the strain that comes with decisions being made.

To ease some of the burden, we are reevaluating policies in place that don't make sense in the time of a national crisis.  These range from adjusting exercises of the Defender series and combat training center rotations, delaying PCS moves, and providing assistance and unanticipated costs to families.

This includes the evolving of how we recruit, moving to a virtual based platform, turning to a virtual learning for educational institutions such as West Point and the Army War College, and adopting an information age approach for milestone events, such as basic training graduations, so that family and friends can still celebrate with our newest members of the formation.

The health protection of our force and our families, coupled with our ability to support the state and local governments, creates the conditions to suppress and defeat the COVID-19 virus. 

Finally, I'd like to point out today that the Army, in a joint effort with the Navy, conducted a successful long range flight of a hypersonic glide body missile.  This is a significant milestone for our number one priority, long-range precision fires, and a true testament to the Army's prepared to fight today across a range of threats, from adversarial actors to strands of a pandemic. 

We are incredibly proud of the force and we're happy to take your questions.

STAFF:  So Bob, we’ll take you first, and then (inaudible).

Q:  Thank you.  For either of you gentlemen, a narrow question and then a bit of a broader one.  Did you say, Mr. Secretary, that you're moving to virtual recruiting only?  In other words, are you closing recruiting stations -- physical recruiting, face-to-face recruiting?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Did you want to take that one, Chief?

GENERAL JAMES C. MCCONVILLE:  Yes, we are.  We are going to basically virtual recruiting.  Much of that is done on social media and that allows us to protect our soldiers and also protect the new recruits, so yes we are.

Q:  So you're closing the recruiting stations?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yes, we are.

Q:  As of today or?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  It's either today. It's happening right now as we speak.  I -I can't attest to every recruiting station, but that is what we are doing over this week, and over the next couple of days, that's what you'll see.

But we are moving to, I would say, virtual recruiting.

Q:  And I have a bit of a broader question for again...


Q:  ... Mr. Secretary.  You know, experts say that you can anticipate that the -- that the spread of the virus will only accelerate and is likely to, of course, not exclude the military.  So I'm wondering what sort of worst-case scenario you foresee for the Army in terms of how you will have to adjust?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  You know, Bob, we're taking this day to day.  A lot of this is looking at the trend data, just to how great it will go.  The things that we've learned from Gen. Abrams in Korea and Gen. Cloutier in Italy is, create these safety bubbles where you keep unit formations intact, and then ultimately see if you can ride this out, was this going to be a seasonal flu, will it kind of reverberate or boomerang in the fall.  So we're keeping the force healthy and formations intact and adjust as we learn more.

Q:  You don't have a specific worst-case situation that you're planning for?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Well, we're learning every day right now, so I think we're taking a look at some options but we need to collect more data.  Testing's key.

Q:  OK.

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  And I would just add to the secretary, what we've found both in Korea and Italy is very strong measures, where we're screening, where we're separating, where we're really washing our hands, and then we're quarantined as soon as anyone comes up with any type of sign that they may be infected, has been very effective in those two areas.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  OK, we're going to go to Barbara.

Q:  I think my questions are for the surgeon general and Gen. Semonite, if I may.  So...

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Go ahead...


Q:  ... can you step to the microphone, possibly?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Sure, what's the question?  Come up.


Q:  Thank you.

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Step back by that (inaudible).  Sorry, Chief.

Q:  For the surgeon general, my first two questions are, can you tell us how many Army personnel are in fact in isolation or quarantine, or however you define it, how many people are in that status of isolation?

If you happen to know how many are awaiting test results on -- we have all seen this medical data emerge that Dr. Birx is talking about extensively, about younger people may be asymptomatic but more -- potentially susceptible to becoming ill.  I am wondering if that makes you rethink your calculations, military, the assumption going in, young, healthy force.  Does any of this new medical data make you rethink that?

And for the Army Corps, if you could just bring us up to date on your discussions with Governor Cuomo in New York, please.

(UNKNOWN):  Go ahead.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL R. SCOTT DINGLE:  So right now, we have a few soldiers absolutely in our medical treatment facilities. The exact number as of yesterday was eight.  This afternoon, it could go higher.  But again, those that we are -- the soldiers that have been identified as positive with COVID, they are in proper treatment and care at our medical treatment facilities.

As far as hitting the Army and our soldiers, which is a younger age, you are absolutely correct.  What we've done is, we've conducted and have implemented our pandemic emergency preparedness plans.  And so, we are prepared for an increased wave.  Every medical treatment facility, every installation commander has come together and we have what we call our pandemic emergency preparedness plans, which expand in worst-case scenarios if more of our soldiers get impacted, or as well as our beneficiary population.

Q:  Could you say how many personnel are in some kind -- aside from the positives, how many are in some kind of, you know, presumptive protective isolation or quarantine until they pass this 14-day period?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  So you're talking like troops coming from overseas, and then they...

Q:  Oh, sorry...


LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLIE FLYNN:  So, Barbara, let me, I would just say this.  Because the numbers change every day.  Every senior commander...


Q:  ... you have today?

LT. GEN. FLYNN:  I don't have a number because it changes hourly.  So what I would express to you is, every senior commander on his installation, back here in the continental United States, has to create isolation facilities and self-quarantine facilities. 

So, the better part of about seven to 10 days ago, senior commanders had to start doing that.  So you've got to go find those facilities, some are empty barracks, some are, you know, other facilities on each of these installations.  So that when people do come back from overseas, because we do have people returning from overseas, that they can go to self-quarantine if they exhibit symptoms. 

And then we can keep some units together, so they go to the same dining facility, they're in the same location, but they're isolated from the general population, both off-post and on-post.

Q:  Can we get a quick update on New York?



LIEUTENANT GENERAL TODD T. SEMONITE:  So, Barbara, before I talk about a specific state, I think it's important to kind of lay out our concept here, because you've not heard this, and we're going to talk about this a lot probably in the next couple weeks.

First of all, the Corps of Engineers obviously works for DOD and anything we need to do there.  But we also here are actually representing FEMA under direct mission assignments that states send to FEMA, and then send back down to me for taskers.

This is an unbelievably complicated problem, and there's no way we're going to be able to do this with a complicated solution.  We need something super simple. 

So our concept here is a standard design.  This is the approved design, it's already been through HHS, briefed to members of the White House, and through FEMA.  What we want to do is, we want to go into existing facilities primarily, places that are out there, and I'm mainly going to talk and make it simple – hotels, college dormitories and perhaps large spaces.

So I'll give you an example of a small room and a large room.  What we need to do is, we need to go into – these hotels are empty.  The people don't have jobs.  We would go in and cut a contract to be able to have the state set up a lease with that particular facility, and then we would then take the building over in a period of exceptionally short amount of days, and we would go in and turn this into an ICU-like facility.

So there's really four different phases.  The state has to nominate the facilities in a prioritized order, and I'll talk about Governor Cuomo in a minute.

Number two is, the Corps of Engineers has to come in and be able to modify that facility.  And we can go into more details in other questions, but it goes back to being able to change the pressure in certain hotel rooms to be able to have a negative pressure in a hotel room.

The third thing is, then you've got to be able to put the supplies in there.  And FEMA, working with HHS, has come up with a list that every single hotel room would get the same amount of supplies.  It would just go in and all right be there.

And then the fourth step is to be able to staff it.  This has to be a state job.  The state has to put the people in there, you've got to clean it and train it, and therefore, just think, you've all been in hotels.  Think of the second floor of a standard hotel.  The rooms would be like a hotel room, and then we would build nurses' stations in the halls, we would have all of the equipment, wireless going into the nurses' stations so you can monitor how that all's going to work.

Now, let me correlate this back to New York.  We want to use New York as the standard setter.  And when I met with Governor Cuomo, he said right up-front, “what can I do?”  And I said, “the biggest thing you need to do is start identifying facilities.” 

And then he said, “how fast do you need them?” 

I said, “I need one tonight, I need three by tomorrow night.” 

So we actually got turned on by the governor.  We got money from FEMA to go into buildings on Tuesday night.  We did the Javits Center yesterday, and we were into some of the SUNY schools yesterday.

Today, my engineers were walking through 10 other buildings; five of those are hotel-like capabilities, and five of those are open spaces, to be able to continue to be able to figure out what does right look like.  And then we give this design to a contractor, then he site-adapts that design.  If it's a hotel with four floors, they change a little bit different.  If it's got central air, we change them. 

But the bottom line is, we've got to do something very, very quick.  Most of the governors are saying that their peak is somewhere around the middle of April.  So this is not take-all-the-time-in-the-world to do it.  This is, what is just barely the most important things we have to do, and to be able to come up with a good enough solution.

And I'll leave it there, and we can talk later in more detail.

Q: Very briefly, do you have the money you need to do this...

LT. GEN. SEMONITE:  Right now, money is not a problem at all.  FEMA has given us the capability.  And the secretary talked about the 13 other states.  That's why we're there.  We're asking those governors tonight, what are your priorities.  I'm in 50 states, my guys are, we can go into other states right now and continue to get these same-type assessments as we need to.

And I'll defer back to the to the secretary.

STAFF:  OK.  So, let's go to Tom and then I'm going to take a couple from online then I'll get back to in-person.

Q:  So I wanted to get back to the testing, Mr. Secretary.  You talked about 810 samples so far at these nine treatment facilities, you could get to 16,000 per day...

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Yes, so...

Q:  And would that be for Army and dependents?  Would that be for civilians?  I mean, who would be able to get tested?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  So there's a couple things.  We're talking about creating the test capability to be able to run a test through a machine.  Now the -- the labs that I referenced before give the scientific backbone to be able to take that positive test out and extract all of the information required. 

So we can get, Gen. Dingle can talk specifically about this, but there's a lot of different pieces throughout the test continuum.  Some of this is just the actual machines where you plug the sample in and in 45 minutes it computes a positive or a negative.  So we're going to buy more machines. 

And then you'll also have just the swab. First, it starts with a swab in your nose and your throat.  Then you put it in the machine.  The machine computes positive or negative.  But then, there's a series of scientific steps that go after that, obviously we'd defer you to the medical professionals.

There are pieces along this supply chain that the Medical Research and Development Command are going to help procure to increase capacity.  As Secretary Esper said the other day, the Department of Defense will go over and above taking care of the force to be able to support the civilian population.  So it's as much as increasing our stocks, as well as supporting from a national perspective.

Gen. Dingle, you want to add anything there?


Q:  How long is going to take until you can get up to 16,000 per day, ballpark?

LT. GEN. DINGLE:  It depends.  And hopefully within the next three weeks; however, we currently have the capability at nine medical centers.  Those nine medical centers, we are adding the increased capability by adding a kit to it or a fusion piece to it.  That's going to increase output tremendously.

And then, in addition to that, we have our small medical treatment facilities that we're looking at expanding and getting that capability there also.  Hopefully, within the next 30 days, we'll have that also.

STAFF:  Great, so we're going to go on the phone lines.  We've got Ashley Roque from Jane's.  Ashley?

Q:  Yes, hi.  Thank you, guys, for doing this.  I have a two-part question.  One, I wanted to hear what impact you're hearing from industry that the current crisis is going to impact the manufacturing and production lines, challenges, concerns, delays. 

And then also, today after the White House press conference, it's still unclear if the president has invoked the Defense Production Act.  However, are you in discussions with the defense industrial base, producing medical equipment at this time?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  She asked a couple questions there.  We are in, and we're working with the defense industrial base, as well as Congress, about the funding as well as just the increase of capability.  That's everything from just procuring and to continue to the development of weapons systems that we have on contract. 

So how can you work out contractually? Some states that are not going back to work, like Pennsylvania and some others, we're working through issues there and I'll have to work to with states, potentially unions and others.  So that's work that's ongoing.

With respect to the Defense Production Act for medical supplies, those are conversations that are underway.  But there's elements of this where you can turn to a supplier and say, fill the orders for, you know, the materials associated for another manufacturer to make it at scale.  And then you can -- and there's actually the more extreme measure of turning to elements of American industry and asking them to make a product, specific.

So they're going through a lot of the administrative work associated with that and you'll hear a lot more here soon.

STAFF:  OK, so we're going to go to David Martin.

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Is he on the phone?

STAFF:  David?  Yes, sir.

Q:  Yes, two separate questions.  One, if -- if you stopped the virtual recruiting, how close are you to stopping basic training?  And, I'm sorry, if you've stopped -- if you've closed your recruiting stations, how close are you to stopping basic training? 

And two, in the timeline that was just described for New York in terms of renovating these existing buildings, what -- how many days are we talking about before a contract is let to a contractor to do the actual work and the work begins?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Well, let me take the first one on basic training or initial military training.  We are continuing to send soldiers to initial military training.  We have put extensive procedures in place. 

It starts at the state and does an assessment of where the state is as far as the COVID-19 virus.  They are screened in the state, and then they move to the Military Entrance Processing Centers.  And again, they are screened there again, making sure there's no issues. 

And then they move to the sites where we actually conduct the initial military training.  They are screened there again.  They go into what we would call a quarantine, even though they're showing no signs, to make sure there's no issues. 

And then they begin initial military training.  And we have reduced the numbers; we're running about 50 percent.  We just ran a test of that.  We identified six recruits that had some type of possible symptoms and we've taken the appropriate measures to make sure that they're being taken care of for their health and welfare.

STAFF:  And then we'll get Gen. Semonite.

LT. GEN. SEMONITE:  So to answer your question, right now we're, with help from HHS, we're calculating what the curves are when they go exponential in all these key cities. 

And we can't do it everywhere, so we're really asking for the federal government to be able to help prioritize our efforts with FEMA to be able to send us to the right place.  This has to be weeks, this can't be months.  So it's going to, like I said, it's going to be the good enough solution to be able to do this and it's all got to be working concurrently, but we'd like to think that we can do this is three to four weeks and try to go as fast as we can.

Now here's the big thing though, what we want to do is we want to have a standard contract.  We're already designing these contracts right now.  We're already talking to industry.  President Trump said yesterday on TV, you know, when things get going tough in America, everybody rallies. 

So this is when the contractor base, we need our engineering contractors to be able to step up, the hotel industry to be able to step up.  And here's the real critical power in this idea, what we want to do is be able to give our products to states. 

And if states want to do this on their own and contract by themselves, we're giving you something that is an HHS-validated concept and you don't have to wait on the Corps of Engineers.  You can do this independently, even to the point where you go back and be able to try to secure that money through FEMA. 

So this goes back to where we need everybody going full-bore to be able to figure out:  where is that bed space capacity delta there, and then how can everybody pull together to be able to make this happen?

STAFF:  OK.  So we're going to do two up.  So Phil, go first and then, Jennifer, and then we'll go on the line again.


Q:  A quick one on the recruiting stations.  What kind of impact do you think that closing the recruiting stations is going to have?  Is it going to drive down recruiting pretty dramatically?  Do you have any kind of sense of what impact that might have on you all?

And then secondly, on this whole issue of trying to separate, isolate folks who may or may not have the coronavirus at these military facilities on all these bases, I mean, these aren't zero pressure rooms, right -- or negative pressure rooms.  I forgot the correct terminology.  So what are you doing in those situations to make sure that people who may or may not have it aren't spreading it through the HVAC system to everybody else who -- in that building?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Yes, so I'll take the first one, Phil.  And then I think either Gen. Dingle or Gen. Flynn can answer your second one.

It's all going to depend on duration.  You know, we're looking at this really hard over the next 15 days and what, we're looking every day to what the experts are learning.  Is this going to be a seasonal flu and then potentially boomerang in the late fall?  We're learning every day about this.  Right now it's a tactical, almost, pause, but I think when you look at how we're approaching this, we've had a margin in our recruiting numbers this year, so we are doing very well, and that, you know, knock on wood as I say that, but it's just all going to depend on duration.  You know, where will we be in a month?  So we're going to watch this every day and see whether or not we can make an adjustment here downstream.

Did you want to add anything?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  I just want to add one thing that we're doing.  Some of these young men and women that have signed up for the military were expecting to maybe ship in the next couple weeks, and maybe because of the state they're in they won't be able to do that. 

What we're looking to do for them, if they're unable to ship because of this health reason, we'll bring them on the payroll, so to speak.  So we'll actually bring them on active duty.  They can stay and get ready in their community, and then once the situation is much better they'll have a chance to ship.

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Yes, so it's just an adjustment, really.  So they're still going to have heavy engagement on the digital space.  Is there anything you want to add about how we're managing people?


LT. GEN. FLYNN:  …  too far a response here, so I'll just talk about the quarantine part.  So we've set up, as I said, each of the senior commanders have locations on their installations where they can quarantine.  And in that quarantine, so if you're not symptomatic, let's just say you came back from a deployment from a level-three country, you go to that quarantine space.  You have no symptoms.  We keep them quarantined.  They go to a mess hall.  They just stay together as a group.  If they begin to exhibit symptoms, because we test them each day. Not test them.  We test them, “hey, how you feeling?  What's your temperature?”  Then they go into isolation.  I'll let Scotty talk about that here in a minute.  And then if testing positive, then there's something else.

Now, back to the quarantine part.  If they have no symptoms, after 12 days we're going to take a test.  Then on the 13th day or the 14th day when it comes back if they show they’re not COVID positive, then they go home.  If they're COVID positive, then I'm going to turn it over to the surgeon, and he'll let you know what they do with some of these positives.

LT. GEN. DINGLE:  Simply that person would then be taken by the military treatment facility and then put in isolation.  For those installations that do not have the holding capability, obviously we are linked with the local civilian hospital also.

STAFF:  (inaudible)

Q:  (inaudible) OK.  Can either you talk about the situation at Fort Bliss?  We were hearing some reports that the soldiers themselves who had returned from overseas deployment felt that their quarantine was draconian.  Has that been alleviated?  What were the -- what was the truth in terms of the conditions and what's changed?


SERGEANT MAJOR OF THE ARMY MICHAEL GRINSTON: Well, one great question for the Sergeant Major.  First, I do want to say how proud I am of the United States Army.  We have great soldiers all around the world.  Every day they come in protecting not only American citizens, but protecting each other.

So the first and foremost, we're going to protect the force.  So they come back from deployment and we've gotten used to – “I come back from deployment.  I have this big ceremony my family runs up.” We're in unprecedented times that, we've got to learn from this.  We can't just do what we've done in the past.  So I think we need some time to get through that to say, yes, we're learning as we go just like our nation is learning every day on how we need to do this. 

We're going to look into that and make sure that we're following the guidelines, that we get everybody together.  We don't go overboard with our extreme measures, but we have to learn and get through this because we have an obligation to protect the force of the United States soldiers and those citizens, and that's what we're doing, and we're going to get through this.

Q:  Sorry, but what about the specific case at Fort Bliss?  They said there were three to bunks.  They weren't being given access to exercise.  What's the truth and what's changed there?

SMA GRINSTON:  Yes. It's like any good command. We're going to investigate and see what's going on in the command and say, “we're going to look into this.”  We have issues like we would have any other issues that people bring these issues to us, and we allow the senior mission commander to investigate those positions.

Q:  So you haven't looked into it yet?

SMA GRINSTON:  Yes.  The senior command is looking into that specific issue right now.

Q:  OK, and...

LT. GEN. SEMONITE:  When we get information, the command will pass that along.

Q:  And another questions.  The cadets at West Point, will -- do you expect them to arrive on campus in the fall and to go through -- to be on campus or will it be a sort of e-learning situation?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  You know, I think it's too early to say.  We'll know a lot more here shortly.  We've been working through the issue just getting that senior class out and getting them to the force.  That's what we've been really keenly focused on right now.

Like the question earlier that Phil had, we're looking at the movements of every soldier in the force and looking at just how safely we can get them from A to B, so they can continue to move down the path.  I mean, to the point the chief made earlier about this tranche of soldiers that went through MEPS at our installations just yesterday.  And you had, what, four or six of them that were...


GEN. MCCONVILLE:  There were six, there were six that we identified.

SEC  MCCARTHY:  There were six that were tested that we said had COVID symptoms and were immediately isolated.  We are that focused on recruiting ROTC, and obviously West Point, because the force generation is just so important.  Right now, just looking at how do we get those thousand out of there in May and get them down to the BOLC training, as well as their ROTC cadets as well.

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yes, much is going to be assessment, but, you know, right now as I think you know we're doing online training for West Point cadets.  We're at that position right now, and then we're going to do every two weeks, take a look, and ideally in a perfect world if this does crest, we would like to bring the seniors back for graduation and have them a chance to leave, but we're going to wait and see and make sure the conditions are safe before we do that.

STAFF:  OK, we're going to go to the line really quick.  We have Terrace from Newsy.

Q:  Hello.  This is Terray Sonje.  I know that there was a ban on the public graduations to protect the trainees and their family members.  I spoke to a lot of families and they were really distraught about this.  What are you doing to try to boost the morale for those trainees who are coming in and those who are about to graduate, as well as their families?  And also, is it possible to make it mandatory that family members of service members be tested for coronavirus to protect that service member even if they don't have symptoms of the coronavirus?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  I'll take the graduation.  This is one of those things that we're putting some pretty tough procedures in place.  And as we talk to Gen. Abrams and we talk to Gen. Cloutier that were very successful.  If we don't change our behavior, and we put a large amount of people together before we have the requisite amount of testing, we're going to have a lot, you know, rougher situations, and we want to make sure that we're protecting the families and the soldiers.

And we're really, I know they're disappointed about not having a graduation, but we want to make sure that they leave our training in a safe manner.  You want to add anything to this, Sergeant Major?

SMA GRINSTON:  No, sir.  (inaudible).

SEC. MCCARTHY:  You want to do the second one?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  OK, you want to do the second question?  OK, got anything?  OK.

SEC. MCCARTHY:  I'll let you take that one.

LT. GEN. DINGLE:  Then, real quick, you know, based on the assessment, you know, decision is made, we then would look at following, again, the CDC protocols first, but then what is best to protect those family members as well as the soldiers, and then we would make a decision reference the testing.

STAFF:  OK, let’s go to Sylvie. Are you on the line, Sylvie?

OK, well, we're going to go to Tara.

Q:  Thank you very much. A bunch of questions on the hotel rooms. How many rooms total do we anticipate being converted and in New York, and then what sort of plans are there for potentially Washington State or California, both of which are -- been pretty hard hit. And then if you could walk us through, how do you actually make a room a negative pressure room?

And then lastly for Sec. McCarthy, just are you feeling OK, there was a few sniffles there at the beginning?


SEC. MCCARTHY:  Let me start with that one. I'm fine, I have exhibited no symptoms.  Every time we walk in the office, they check our temperature and we wash our hands.

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Six feet from me.


SEC. MCCARTHY:  He's six feet from me.  I -- you know, we're not getting a lot of sleep, but other than that, I'm doing well, thank you for asking, though.

But one thing I'd ask, just comment, before Gen. Semonite chimes in, it's important to understand that they have to put together a concept to triage large volumes of potential patients.

So somebody can come up to the front door and they could say, “I don't feel, I was at Belvoir on Wednesday.  I was at Walter Reed this morning,” and just looking at the procedures that are put in place. And you've got, you know, an E4, young enlisted soldier right there, ask three or four questions. And then they kind of go through this decision tree.

“I've hurt my ankle falling down the stairs,” pregnancy, maybe COVID, maybe just the flu, and this is the way to triage this large scale.  So we've helped put concepts in place for the states that ultimately, would it require federal support? Probably, but it’s just a matter of what, because people are asking, what hospital, that, a lot of this is just conceptually how would you put it in place.  And a lot of that has to do with the comments that Gen. Semonite made earlier.  What are the trends?  How many people?

In many cases, a lot of these folks that come into the hospital, they get medication, they go home.  They're not necessarily required to stay overnight at a hospital, and a lot of that is just conceptually, how’re you going to screen large-scale.

Hospitals like St. Vincent's and others probably aren't used to hundreds of people showing up, so that's how where we can help just think through the problem with a systems engineering approach and then ultimately apply more resources as needed.

Gen. Semonite, anything you want to add?

LT. GEN. SEMONITE:  You asked about numbers. Every state I'm sure is right in the process of trying to figure this out.  That's why the secretary talked about talking to these governors and trying to get this. We don't know exactly what they are.

The main thing is, there's really two variables we're looking at. We're looking at is, what is the slope of the curve of how many people are getting sick?  And then what is the shortage of actual beds in that particular city?

You might have a city with, there's one I won’t mention, but it's actually got a pretty high school slope of the curve, but they've got an awful lot of brand new hospitals, and they've got pretty good capability to be able to that.

The other thing I didn't talk about in a lot of detail was this idea of the big concept. We want to try to go into the hotel dormitory, but we do have the ability to go in and do a convention center. That's a little bit easier to do. But it's not quite the same level of care that we really want to do. We want to do this right, and do this deliberate. And this goes back to, again, we can't get do everything; we've got to somewhere be able to draw the line.  And the more that the states can figure out how to do this by themselves, then that takes so much more burden off, so that we can be asked go in to those states who maybe don't have that capacity.

Q:  So, I know that you can't give us specific numbers, but at least for New York, where you were there on the ground, have you gotten an indication?  Are you talking about hundreds of rooms you're converting, thousands of rooms?

LT. GEN. SEMONITE:  We're talking about over ten thousand that we are looking at right now. We need to send that up, and in fairness to the state of New York, that is not my decision. That has to go to FEMA, FEMA has to make a decision of what is that allocation, and then we will exercise whatever FEMA tasked us to do.

Q:  And then lastly, how do you convert a room to negative pressure?

LT. GEN. SEMONITE:  I'm going to make it super simple.  It's actually with a little tiny unit.  That's why we like hotel rooms.  Almost every hotel room has a little tiny unit back in the corner, and, actually, it is self-contained for that particular room.

You actually want to bring, we want to bring the pressure down two or three PSI and you actually adjust that unit to be able to suck more air out down through the bathroom vent to be able to have a negative pressure.

On the door, you put up a great big piece of plastic with a zipper on it.  So you zip-in, you go into the room.  We can go into more details, but I don't want to bore you.  But it's a relatively simple process. 

And if we can't use the existing unit, we're going to rip it out and put another one back in that has a higher pressure.  We're trying to suck the air down so we have a negative pressure.

STAFF:  OK.  So Tara, before you ask another question...

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Did you get all that?

STAFF:  ... I'm going to go to Kim.


GEN. MCCONVILLE:  You learn something every day.

Q:  All right, I have two...


STAFF:  Well, I said Kim.  Sorry, Kim...

Q:  ... Oh, I thought you said Tom.

STAFF:  ... or sorry, Tom.  Kim?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  We won't leave without you getting your question (inaudible).

Q:  Kim Dozier with TIME.  I wanted to ask how you're protecting the troops and DOD civilians in active conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, and how is that affecting operations?  Like, how can you do by, with, and through at a distance of six feet?

And then the policy question is, how much was the shrinking of the footprint in Iraq post-Soleimani, COVID-19?  And what is that doing to things like watching Iranian activity in southern Syria, protecting the oil fields?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yeah, in fact, I talked to General Miller this morning just to get a sense of what's going on in Afghanistan.  And he's dealing with really the same issue that all the commanders are dealing.  He's got a combat mission going on right now, and as you said, they're advising and assisting.  And he also wants to protect the force. 

And so what he's taking a look at is the criticality of each mission.  They are doing the things that we talked about, they're screening, they're washing their hands, they are using social distance, which, quite frankly, does work.

We, as we looked at Korea, a lot of people say -- think it's that you're kidding around.  If you stay six feet away, people aren't, you know, spreading germs and you washing your hands, that does work.  So what he is doing is taking a look at the missions that he is getting and putting in those measures. 

Also, as we send troops into the region, we are quarantining them.  We're bringing some troops in.  As they come in to the region, if they're not mission essential, we're doing a risk assessment on them, processing them through one of the countries that -- before they get to Afghanistan and making sure that they are, that they have no issues with the virus.

STAFF:  OK.  We’ll go to Tom...

Q:  And then -- sorry.  (inaudible) Syria, COVID-19, how much is the shrinking of the footprint in Iraq due to what was already going on with Soleimani and Iraqi anger over U.S. strikes against Iranian proxies, and how much was COVID-19?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Well, the same with Pat White, he's doing the same thing.  He's taking a look at how he works with the -- with the Iraqis, the -- the mission continues there.  At the same time, he's trying to protect the force.

Q:  And does that pullback affect watching Iranian activity in the south or protecting those oil fields?  Does that mission continue?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Well I think -- I think right now, in many of these countries is they're very, very concerned about this virus also.  You know, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, certainly in Iran is, you know, I think this virus is a serious concern for all, and that's affecting everyone's operations.

Q:  Even Iranian proxy activity in southern Syria?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Well, I probably wouldn't, at this point, I'd probably defer that question.

STAFF:  Tom?

Q:  Thanks.  I have two questions, gentlemen.  One is, have military services for funerals been suspended?  And the second question is, you talked about the bubble earlier -- I think it was you, General, who talked about the bubble...

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yes, sure.

Q:  ... How far back do you have to envision, sir, maybe back do you have to envision for troops that were in, like, tier one countries like Italy -- tier three countries, excuse me, like Italy and South Korea.  If -- if they left in December, are there, is there a concern that they may be carriers?  That type of thing.

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Well, you know, we've brought people back from Korea.  We brought a whole brigade back and that was just recently, probably January, February timeframe, for the 1st Cavalry Division.  And they went through that process and so far, so good. 

But that bubble, and that's what Gen. Abrams really did.  And for some others, it was pretty draconian because, you know, when you went somewhere, when you came on, where you were asked questions. 

You were -- your temperature -- if you were to come onto the military installations, your temperature was taken, you were asked questions, you were screened and as soon as there were any type of issues, you went into some type of quarantine.  And that's how you prevent the spreading.

Q:  So like, for Korea -- and then I do have another question...


Q:  ... I think the first announced case was on January 20th.  So if troops came back before that, were they retroactively screened?


LT. GEN. FLYNN:  So they were not, at that particular point, they were not designated as a level three country.  When they went to level three, everything that arrived after that went to screening


LT. GEN. FLYNN: So you know, and both the chief and secretary, I think the important point is because, you know, they identified a certain time on the ground in both Korea and Italy, those commanders, Gen. Abrams and Gen. Cloutier.  And prior to that, because they saw trends going in a bad direction, they basically put a seal around their installations and their families, and that's why those outcomes have been so positive for them.

Q:  Thank you, yes.  And my other question was, sir...


SMA GRINSTON:  Yes, on the funerals here and the National Capital Region, you know, for the Old Guard, we've kind of reduced some of the footprint.  It is they're not going to have, like, the escorts, there won't be a large formation for those that are authorized an escort. 

But they're still doing the, what we would say, full honors.  We're just using the same criteria we use for everybody else...

Q:  OK.

SMA GRINSTON:  ... just keep your distance and respect our fallen.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  OK, we're going to go on the phone.  We have Hayley on the line.

Q:  Yes, thank you.  I'm wondering how these requirements -- you know, things like social distancing and keeping soldiers separated, are being balanced with readiness requirements?  And what kind of instruction is being passed down to some of the lower echelon commanders about their responsibilities to have their units at a certain readiness level?  Kind of how that's being balanced with protecting soldiers, you know, and the things that may require them to have close contact.

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yeah, we've had that discussion.  In fact, I was just discussing that with the FORSCOM commander.  And getting to the, there some things that we can do as far as training, where we have small amounts of soldiers that continue to train. 

You know, we want small amounts.  If you take the squad, a lot of times when squads are training, you know, it's a five meter distance the way they move and maneuver.  So they could continue to train and have that social distance.

You know, what we don't want people doing is having large formations, what we don't want people doing is putting large amounts of soldiers maybe into an auditorium for training where there's a much greater chance to spread.  But you know, soldiers can still go to the field, soldiers can still train.  But we are recommending highly that they keep that social distance. 

And then, take a look at what the soldier's mission is.  There are certain soldiers, we know, have critical missions coming up, they're combat missions.  They need to be ready to do that and that is the risk to the mission, so they put, you know, they know they need to continue to train.  And if they have other soldiers that the mission isn't so essential, they can take the proper measures to account for that.

STAFF:  OK, so we'll get Laura on the line and we'll do one more in-person question.  So Laura?

Q:  Hi, can you hear me?


GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yes, sure. 

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Go ahead.

Q:  Great, awesome.  So I'm just wondering if you can tell me if you're thinking at all about graduating any medics early to try and help alleviate pressure on the civilian hospitals?  And are you looking at -- are you looking at that possibility?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Well, right now, we're not.  We think it's very important that our medics are trained if they're going to help out. 

And then just one thing, as far as our whole medical community and Gen. Dingle is here, but you know, what we've told him, the guidance we've given him is, throughout the entire medical community, is they're going to be engaged in combating this virus. 

And it could be if they're in the Reserves, they may be operating in their civilian capacities or they'll be operating at the, our medical treatment facilities, they'll be deployed in combat, or they'll be composing our hospitals that are requested.

But every single medical professional in the United States Army is going to be engaging in this endeavor in some way.

STAFF:  OK, so we have time for one more.  Courtney, you haven’t gone yet?

Q:  I have about five, so. 

Let's see, for the secretary and the chief -- that's what you get when you call on me last -- the secretary and the chief, you put both CSH and a field hospital on Prepare to Deploy Orders earlier this week.  Have they been assigned to go anywhere?  And are there any other medical units or supplies, anyone who's been on Prepare to Deploy as well?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yeah, I'll take that because I talked about that yesterday.  We talked about the 47th Combat Support Hospital out of Fort Lewis.  We also talked about the hospital out of Fort Campbell.  Those were the two that were given what we call Prepare to Deploy Order.

We've also really given a warning order to all our role three hospitals.  And what we're doing is, we're taking a look at them and saying, OK, the one in that we talked about at Fort Lewis, we may not end up, if we do get an order to deploy it, that may not be the one we deploy.  Because it really depends on, we don't have an exact place to go. 

But if -- because they're sitting at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington right now, those hospitals actually work in, you know, they're in the area, they're doing, they work in clinics, they work in the hospitals. 

So what we've asked the surgeon general, he can talk a little bit more about this, is, as we stand up these hospitals, we say, hey, what's the impact on the community if we take these people out of the hospital?  Because they have, I don't want to say they have a day job, but they kind of do normal medical care during the day.

It's the same thing with our Reserves and the National Guard.  We canceled a combat training center rotation for the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team because that's a National Guard brigade from Washington.  And really, the soldiers come from Washington and California.  And we're anticipating that the governors may need them, so we don't want to take them to the combat training center when we think they need to be used in the community, and the same thing with the doctors, nurses, and the rest of the folks.

Do you want to add anything to that?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  While he's coming up, the thing to get back to again is just the concept that's put in place for how they're going to conduct the health care continuum from screening all the way through to recovery.  So ultimately, those will be the how the sourcing solutions come forward.

Those hospitals you referenced, those are for trauma.  So would they be used just for trauma patients?  Because people are going to get in car accidents, things are going to happen over and above COVID-19, or do we change the task organization of that -- that hospital by, with personnel, numbers of beds?

So things could potentially change. Ultimately, from the work really that these three guys are doing, in planning and ultimately offering up concepts to FEMA, and then ultimately work with the states.

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yeah, could I want to jump on that because, you know, we could ask the question, well, you know, you've got a CSH, you've got a field hospital. How many beds?  And we give you that.

That's probably not how we're going to do it, because we look at some of these field hospitals, they're tents.  You know?  And that may not be the best place.  If we're  -- we’re the United States; we've got hotels, we've got dormitories, we could do much better care.  And maybe they occupy that building, if they had to do it.

So what we're looking for is, hey, here's the capabilities we have, and then working with this team right here to get the right people in the right place at the right time.

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Come on, hurry up, we got four more...


LT. GEN. DINGLE: Just to add real quick, a multi-compo approach to it because we know that if we pull one, it's going to impact either civilian sector or our military medical treatment facilities.  So we're doing a comprehensive analysis to make sure we get it right and don't break something.

SEC. MCCARTHY:  So you guys all appreciate that, it's like Jenga puzzle.  They're doing things locally, and if you extract doctors from Fort Belvoir to go to New York, what does that do to Fort Belvoir?

So the rigor for the sourcing solutions are more unique than what we've seen before.  Because we go to the Middle East, we come home, it's not as linear of a problem set.  The complexity, because it's right here at home and they do things at home over and above deploying with unit X or Y.

So that when you, I know you're all going to want to know, units are going to be going here and there.  Ultimately, that's why you see a greater level of rigor than you would see under a normal condition.

Q:  So it's fair to say that every medical unit in the U.S. Army is on a warning order right now, to potentially prepare to deploy?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  That, well


SEC. MCCARTHY:  Well, not -- well, it depends...

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  ... not deploy.

SEC. MCCARTHY:  ... I mean, there's, we've got 191,000 people deployed. There working on everything.

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  What I would say is accurate, is every unit in the United States Army, medical, has been told to take a look at their capabilities and capacity.  So they can come back to us. 

So when someone says, hey, we need a field hospital, and I look at it and you have this many people from this post, this many people from that post, what are those, what are those doctors doing at Madigan at, you know, that's going to fill that?  Hey, we pull this person out to go with this field hospital, we just took down this capability there.  So what we want to do, especially for the Reserves, because we're assuming most of those doctors, those nurses, that's probably what they're doing, you know, in real life, when they're not in the Reserves, so that’s what we’re trying to do.


SEC. MCCARTHY:  Comprehensive inventory.

You -- come on, keep going.

Q:  And then, Gen. Semonite, can you tell us on the money that, how much money did FEMA give Corps of Engineers on Tuesday?  Have there been any other allocations since Tuesday?  How many facilities does it include? Like, can you give us the hard stats out of what they -- FEMA...


LT. GEN. SEMONITE:  So I'm going to keep this really short.  The secretary's asked me to be available next week to do a facility-only press conference and I can answer more of these questions there.

FEMA gave us a million dollars, but they basically said, whatever you need, you keep coming back for the planning piece.  So that's why we're in states right now, doing all the planning. 

The only actual list I have today is of New York, but that's why these states are coming back.  And once I know more, then I'll lay all this out for you.  Where's the buildings, how many facilities and what's this look like.

Q:  How many facilities do you have right now that are being...


LT. GEN. SEMONITE:  Right now, 12 facilities that we're working at today, they'll be done by today, 12. 

Q:  OK, thank you.

SEC. MCCARTHY:  What else you got?

Q:  That's OK, (inaudible)

SEC. MCCARTHY:  You good?

Q:  General...


Q:  General Semonite, just one quick one, I know this is the Army leadership in formation, but I'm wondering, are you coordinating with the other services?  I'm thinking of the Seabees.  Are you working with them? They get out there and bang some nails.

LT. GEN. SEMONITE:  We definitely are when it comes to the DOD missions.  I basically do most of my work in this lane under FEMA, where some of the other services don't have that.  So while the other services could certainly do things on military installations, when it comes to FEMA missions, I basically do that with the Corps of Engineers only.

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Once the concepts are firm, then you reach into what types of capabilities you're going to need.

STAFF:  So sir, you want to call, we’ve got . . .?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Anybody else?  OK, last one.

Q:  OK, real quick.  What is a reasonable expectation of a soldier who comes in and wants a COVID test?  How long should it take for him to get, or her, to get a response back?

And then, and real quick, before, you said that all the folks who tested positive were going into these zero-pressure rooms; people who were fine were in normal barracks.  What about the people who are presumptives?  Are they going to zero-pressure rooms or are they in barracks with everybody else?


SEC. MCCARTHY:  It's, look, I think a lot of this is, is just how extreme.  Some people are going home, and they're going into quarantine, self-quarantine.  So not everybody is required for that level of care. 

I mean, Gen. Dingle, do you want to jump in here?

LT. GEN. DINGLE:  Sir, you hit it.  You were spot on.  It's based on the condition of that soldier.  It's, you get some that would just be sniffles and going through it light. Others would be more severe that will require hospitalization. It depends on the condition of the soldier.

SEC. MCCARTHY:  Allergies.

Q:  (Inaudible) respirators or in ICUs, sir?

SEC. MCCARTHY:  That's a HIPAA thing, I don't think we're ought to really talk about it.

Q:  Actually the president said that he’s ...


SEC. MCCARTHY:  I’m cautious, the lawyers tell me to be cautious with that stuff.


Q:  Well, we're not asking for names.  We're just asking if there are any people that are...

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  What's that? We do not, is what he said.

Q:  Can you ask what other states have asked for the hospital plans?


LT. GEN. SEMONITE:  It's too long a list right now, I can lay that out. I'm in the process of making a matrix of all 50 states, the territories as well. Who are we talking to? What do we think the requirement is?  We just aren't there yet. We're getting all this stuff in every single day. We're looking very hard at California, the state of Washington; we've already been in New Jersey, and we're working our way around the states that are coming back, and we're really looking at where's the biggest demand, so we go to those states first. 

STAFF:  And we'll be able to give you more of a comprehensive lay-down next week.  And then, sir, over to you for closing.

SEC. MCCARTHY: As I stated at the start, it's just we're going to come down here routinely and tell you about our progress, about the health of the force and just what we're learning from day to day. But these are very extraordinary set of circumstances. The thing that resonates the most with me is just a 24-hour news cycle, and it's affecting us here at home.

These guys are working 14 hours a day, and then they go home and their families, to answer your question. So people are working really hard, but a really unique set of circumstances. I think you all feel it, too, and just take care of yourselves, OK?

And I may take a question or two on my way out here, and we've got to get back up there, OK?

GEN. MCCONVILLE:  Yes, just one closing thing, as the secretary said, we have about 190,000 soldiers around the world, but the real heroes in this fight.  It's going to be our doctors, our scientists, our nurses and our medical professionals. They're on the front line of this thing; and we've got a chance to go up to Fort Detrick and see what they're doing. They're really getting after it, and we will prevail. So thank you.