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Air Force Lt. Gen. Webb Press Briefing on Protecting Air Force Training Pipelines

STAFF:  Thank you all for joining us today.  As Uriah mentioned earlier, please make sure that your phones are on mute and that you don't have your speaker function on.  Also, today there'll be an opportunity for one question and one follow-up.

And so today, we are joined by Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, the commander of Air Education and Training Command.  Gen. Webb is here to discuss the changes that AETC has implemented in response to COVID-19 in order to protect the Air Force training pipelines and future airmen.

So before we get started, Gen. Webb, do you have some opening remarks?


Good morning, everyone.  I appreciate the opportunity for me to tell you how the Air Force is training during this pandemic.

What I'd like to do is read a statement first, as obviously, this format may not allow everyone to get their questions in.  And my intent for this statement is to provide content that I anticipate will be on your mind.

So given that these are extraordinary times, and as Gen. Goldfein has said, “it's not business as usual; it's business as required.”  That's how we've made our decisions about training during this crisis.  We are laser-focused on the SECDEF's three priorities: people, which of course, is ensuring to the utmost degree possible the safety of our airmen and families; mission, which of course is about national defense; and partners, which is a whole-of-nation response to this crisis.

Readiness: Military readiness requires trained and available forces, which equate directly to national security.  This is why, after careful consideration, we've decided to continue mission-essential training.  Rest assured, our near-peer adversaries are watching to see how we respond to this massive health threat.

We at AETC have 30,000 airmen and space professionals in various pipelines, and in order to maintain a trained force we must continue to bring in new recruits and train them.  Today, our mission-essential training is basic military, technical and flying training, as well as Officer Training School and Reserve Officer Training Corps.

First, I'd like to talk about basic military training, or BMT.  In BMT, we normally graduate about 3,000 airmen each month.  If we stand this capability down for a month, it will take a year to recover.  Now having said that, we are not in full production of BMT.  Currently, we are accepting only about 460 new trainees every week instead of the usual 600 to 800.  This decrease helps us improve our physical distancing.

We've also implemented the following:  One, we have placed new BMT trainees in a 14-day restriction of movement, or ROM, upon arrival.  We started this procedure with the class that entered in -- on 17th of March.  We also have them in geographically separated training facilities at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, so that they don't have contact with trainees who have already started the BMT pipeline.

Two, no new recruits reported to BMT last week to allow us time to implement new procedures, based on our observations of our first two weeks of the ROM, and also to deep clean dorms, the dining facilities, and other infrastructure in line with CDC guidance.

Three, we've implemented enhanced medical screening at entry -- at initial entry and during ROM.

Four, we've adjusted training to decrease exposure of trainees and military training instructors.  So far, we've realized only five positive trainees, zero instructor positives, and zero outbreaks to date, thanks in large part to these proactive measures.

Additionally, we're conducting BMT at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, starting this week.  We chose Keesler because more than 160 career fields accomplish technical training there, and we'll limit trainees' movement from BMT to their technical training location.  We call this a proof of concept, and this proof of concept also provides relief to the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland infrastructure.

Finally, we've shortened BMT from eight and a half weeks to seven weeks in order to maximize training effectiveness and space utilization.  A variety of approaches are being used to shorten the training length, such as decreased time spent on certain drill and ceremony items and streamlining the uniform issue process.  And I would note this is an example of business as required.

Moving to technical training.  After BMT, airmen transfer to tech training, a diverse enterprise which trains airmen in 265 specialties at 78 operating locations across the U.S., with a few detachments overseas.  To protect our tech trainees, we've empowered commanders to modify their training courses -- again, an example of business as required -- to stay ahead of the curve.

Modification -- modifications range from splitting training into shifts to reduced class sizes, using distance learning more, and even using outdoor classrooms.  In some cases, we're moving training forward and in others we've deferred training that can only be completed in close quarters or in large groups.  Obviously, it's a careful balance.

Flying training. Regarding Undergraduate Pilot Training, or UPT, we've currently – we’re currently operating at reduced capacity because of enhanced health protection measures.  Most of our flying training wings are employing a -- what we call a blue/silver teaming approach, or have split into what's called, pods, meaning we're training in small groups of individuals, notably around seven or eight at a time.

Our commanders have implemented various screening, quarantine, and isolation protocols to ensure -- to ensure mitigated risk for their teams.  While it's too early to know the full effects of COVID-19 on our flying training pipeline, we know it will be impactful.

Officer training. Our ROTC cadets are completing their college education via distance learning.  Our Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base has adopted some of the same precautions as I've described in BMT, to include medical screening, restriction of movement, and physical distancing.

I have just a quick word on recruiting.  Of course, none of this training happens without our recruiting service.  Our mission starts with our amazing recruiters who are finding innovative ways to continue the mission during COVID-19.  Through the use of technology, recruiters are maintaining their relationships with applicants and communicating, during this time is obviously imperative.

Additionally, recruiters are developing agile shipping methods to allow flexibility when Military Entrance Processing Stations, or MEPS, close due to COVID-19, and we've already seen some of that in various areas around the country.

MEPS locations are the first stop for recruits entering military service in the United States.  Should a MEPS location close, recruiters can send recruits to adjacent MEPS locations to complete their final medical checks before going to BMT.  Communication is the single most important part of the process, and we encourage all new applicants to stay in constant communication with their recruiter.

Across the enterprise, we are following risk-based measures consistent with guidance from the Department of Defense and CDC.  We continue to take actions to fight through COVID-19 while balancing our responsibilities to deliver air and space power for our nation, all while mitigating risk to communities, airmen, families and trainees as we execute our mission.

We appreciate our service members and their families for what they are doing in this time of crisis.  We appreciate the fact that you have entrusted your sons' and daughters' care to us.  We don't take that responsibility lightly.

I hope that's given you an idea of where we stand today in terms of Air Force training, and I'm happy to answer any questions.

Ann, back to you.

STAFF:  Thanks.

Lita from A.P., do you have a question?

Q:  Hi, yes.  Thank you, General.  Two things.

One, on recruiting, are you seeing a reduction in the number of people who are coming in?  Is there a way you can sort of quantify that for us?  Because as you look out to the future, are there fewer -- are you getting fewer recruits right now just because of the whole national COVID situation?

And then secondly, on the training, you gave us some numbers on the initial basic training, COVID-positive.  But more broadly across the force that you see within all your training, what are the numbers of COVID-positives?  Particularly, if you have seen any among pilots and whether that's impacting any operational issues.

GEN. WEBB:  OK, thank you.

On the first question, respective of recruiting numbers, we've been in kind of a -- I would say to the 99th percentile, virtual at this point.  But we've only been in that for less than two weeks.  So the data really isn't discernible yet on what we're seeing.  It's obviously of utmost importance.

I think especially in the recruiting area, we have the opportunity now to never go back to old ways.  There's a lot of good virtual innovation that's occurring, especially with respect to recruiting, that I'd be interested in retaining.

So the data will, of course, tell the tale of the tape on whether – whether, you know, we see a decrease in those numbers.  Too early to tell, is the – is the bottom line to that one, but very interested in it.

On the second one, I know it was generally about the BMT-positives that I've articulated, and I'm glad to have a follow-up if I don't hit the mark exactly on this one.  But with respect to BMTs* across the force, we're kind of keeping that in readiness channels and we'll be reporting that strictly through military channels from here on out.  And that, obviously will include what's happening with the pilot force.  Over.

STAFF:  OK.  Sylvie, do you have anything?  Sylvie from AFP?

Q:  Oh, yes, yes.  Hello.  Sorry, yes, I have a question.

Do you -- do you train foreign airmen?  And -- and did it change with the COVID-19?

GEN. WEBB:  OK, thank you. The question, do we train foreign airmen, the answer to that is yes, and, as with all areas of training, this hasn’t – this obviously impacts all areas, and it would also include our foreign partners as well.  They're adhering to protocols of their own nation as well as those of the United States.  Over.

Q:  You mean, you are keep -- you keep training them?

STAFF:  You're continuing to train them?

GEN. WEBB:  Yes.  We -- we -- I'm sorry, go ahead?

STAFF:  I was just repeating her question.

GEN. WEBB:  Yeah, the answer to the question is yes.  We continue to train our foreign partners that we have in the pipeline, under the protocols that are both -- that the U.S. has set, but also those that their nation has directed that they fall under.

Q:  OK, thank you.

STAFF:  Ryan Browne from CNN?

Q:  Hello, General.  Thank you for doing this.

You mentioned in your opening statement, that you're only shipping about 60% if my -- my cocktail-napkin math is right, 60% of recruits, to basic military training, compared to your normal numbers.

And you said if you'd stopped basic military training for a month, that would set shipping for a month – that would set you back a year.  So given that you're only shipping 60%, how far is that setting you back?

GEN. WEBB:  Yeah, obviously it's going to set us back, but we will be leaking at about half the rate we would have.  Now, you're right, it's about at a 60th percentile.  We had a little bit of cache that you would always expect of a training pipeline to do, but we're going to eat into that the longer that this continues.

But our assessment of, you know, the protocols that we're operating under, are that we have it at the appropriate level.  So, you know, I wouldn't want to leave you with an impression that this doesn't affect our ability in any of our pipelines, because it does.  But we are as elegantly as we can, navigating the risk to force and the risk to mission kind of aspects, of keeping after readiness to the extent that we can.

Q:  And if I could just ask one -- thank you.

And if I could just ask one follow-up, at this current rate, what is your tipping point in terms of when will it be kind of an unacceptable level of risk, if you're at this -- at this rate?  How long can you go until you reach kind of an unacceptable tipping point?

GEN. WEBB:  Well, we’ll continue to assess that with the leadership of the Air Force.  Obviously, we'll be watching, you know, the numbers that we have in the Air Force, and the particular specialty codes that are being filled, directly correlates to Air Force readiness.

So, you know, we are in a, obviously, a reduced to some amount -- degree of training.  Our assessment is that we don't have to take other measures, such as stop-loss, which of course has been -- being discussed inside of Washington.  We're not at that point, yet.

If this were to continue for an extraordinary amount of time -- and by that I mean multiples of months -- we would probably have to -- we as the Department of Defense, certainly the Air Force, continue to assess when we'd have to take other measures.  We're not there at this point, and we're really kind of taking it day-by-day and week-by-week, to see what we can get done on our end of the pipeline.  Over.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Sig Christenson from San Antonio Express-News.

Q:  Good morning, General.  Thanks for doing this today.

I wonder, we – we have talked about this amongst a few people I know.  If you continue to not get enough people into basic training, why’d you end up going to stop-loss to compensate for the difference that's happened before, certainly, during the Iraq War?

GEN. WEBB:  Say again?  I missed the crux of the question.  Was that how or why?  I missed the actual question part of that.

Q:  OK, I'll try again.  I may have had the – I may have the wrong button pushed here.

Given that you are losing people in the pipeline, and it's even possible, I suppose, if you could stop the pipeline again for a longer period than just one week. If you ended up doing that, could you go to stop-loss?  Would you – would you recommend going to stop-loss if you are losing people in the recruiting pipeline at a rate that you can't make up for?  That's my question.

GEN. WEBB:  Oh, OK.  So that, the decision on whether to go to stop-loss will be a decision that will be made at the senior levels, the very senior-most levels of the Air Force.

And so, what I'll be providing is our assessment of what we can train, which of course I've just kind of articulated to you, and the personnelists on the air staff will be providing an assessment of what that does in the -- over the duration of months.  And we'll make a jointly, probably, arrived-at recommendation for the chief.

But believe this.  We are looking at this on a daily, if not weekly, basis on what this does to our readiness.  That's how we'll arrive at a point, if we arrive at that point, for a stop-loss decision.

Q:  Then, I have a quick follow-up to that.

Is there a when?  Is there a point where you would have to make that decision?  Have you identified the point where you would have to make a decision on that?

GEN. WEBB:  No, we haven't identified a point at this time.  We're at an absolute decision point.

STAFF:  OK.  Lucas Tomlinson from Fox News?

Q:  General, for years the Air Force had a pilot shortage.  What is this pandemic doing to that shortage?

GEN. WEBB:  Well, it's not helping.


Obviously, our -- the impact to our ability to navigate a blue and silver flight construct is -- eats into our production capabilities.  That's the bad news.

On the good news side is, generally you see in times of crisis, 9/11 is another great example of that, where, whether it's patriotism, or job opportunities, or what have you, we tend to see those that may be getting out or those that have recently gotten out, want to return to service inside of our Air Force.

I expect that we'll see some of that to a degree, which will help mitigate that.  This is another one that we're going to be assessing on a weekly, if not daily, basis.  Over.

STAFF:  Jennifer from Air Force Magazine?

Q:  Hi, General.  Thank you for taking the time.

My question is, since you commented on the closure of the Military Entrance Processing Stations, I was wondering if you could possibly provide the number of how many stations have been shuttered as of the last count you were provided, so that we can get an idea of the kind of level of the issue.

GEN. WEBB:  Yes.  The number -- I don't know the exact number of stations that have closed.  It's been several.  But, they don't necessarily stay closed.

So if they have a situation where they've had a positive, or for whatever reason they've decided to close their station, the stations close and then can potentially open.  That has been the case in some.  Some, I think, have remained closed, and I'm -- honestly, it does change on a daily basis, and I don't know what that number is currently.  Over.

Q:  OK.  And then I have a follow-up, would be, are there any initial lessons learned that have been coming in from the, I guess, the in-processing stage of the BMT proof of concept at Keesler?

GEN. WEBB:  Well -- sorry.  I might have hit the button -- talked before I hit the button.

I mean, we're on day two or day three, you know, really, of this.  It's, obviously, there are much smaller numbers.  That -- there's going to be some usefulness that comes out of that from the ability to get to classes and to kind of, you know, you're in a smaller group that'll -- we expect to see some efficiencies.  I really think it's too close, too early to tell.  Let us get about a week under our belt, and then I think we'll start really getting an assessment.  And obviously, this is a proof of concept, so we really want to take the time to assess, you know, the full kind of panoply of that training before we decide if this is a continuation as a good, viable alternative.  Over.

STAFF:  Oriana Pawlyk from

Q:  Hey, sir.  Thanks for doing this.

So, I wanted to go back to BMT real quick.  You had mentioned some numbers there, and I'm curious what happens to airmen in flights who have been exposed to airmen that have tested positive for COVID-19.  What does the process look like there?  Do you separate those airmen?  Where do they go?  Where do they even quarantine?  Do they have to, you know, start their training all over again?  I mean, just what does that look like?

GEN. WEBB:  Yeah, thanks, Oriana.

When we have a positive, you know, which I told you we've had five here in the last, well, since we started the procedures, the 17th of March. We have a cadre of folks, called public health officials, that run forensics on who may have been exposed. In this case, we're talking about trainees. A trainee in the environment they were in.  And, we sequestered them.  They are either placed, after medical testing, in quarantine or they go into, and this is a medical term, PUI, persons under investigation. And, I mean that in a medical sense, investigation, if they -- if we think that they are exhibiting symptoms.

So when you have a positive, it does tend to impact decent chunks of numbers.  They go through medical testing, and if there are no symptoms and, you know, there are protocols, medical protocols whereby they can be -- once they've cleared testing they rejoin their flights or their formations to continue with the training.  Those that are deemed, still need to be investigated, stay in that status.

And so we've done that now for -- like I said, we've had five COVID-positives.  This morning we are up to four of the COVID-positives are returning to the general population of trainee. They do not start over at zero day.  We do an assessment of where we think they are with respect to training. And they will either rejoin the flight they were originally in or they may be set back a class or two.  We go through an assessment of that.

That’s -- those are for the COVID-positives. So, you can imagine those that are under quarantine that have passed protocols in a hurry, they aren't sequestered for nearly as long, and they've already returned to training.

So, that -- I think that gives you a general sense of how we're assessing this.  Over.

Q:  And a quick follow-up.  Aside from airmen, have any instructors or any, you know, just any instructors, athletic or the folks that they would see with day-to-day, have they tested positive, to your knowledge?

GEN. WEBB:  Right, so if you have a positive and public health officials assess that an MTI, a military training instructor, would've been exposed, they too go into the quarantine protocols, and we have had those.  I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but I can tell you we've had zero -- zero MTIs test positive as they've gone through this -- through the protocols.  Over.

STAFF:  Abraham from Washington Examiner.

Q:  Yeah, thank you, General, for taking my question.

Could you talk a bit about the pipeline for space professionals?  Are you on track to graduate on time?  What are the numbers?  I know that Gen. Raymond recently said that the Air Force Academy had 64 cadets who were supposed to graduate in May.  And if you're not on track, what are your new projections and how is recruiting and on-boarding going for space professionals?

Thank you.

GEN. WEBB:  Thanks, Abraham.

I'm going to have to circle back with you on the exact numbers of our trainees that will be headed to Space Force.  As you may or may not be tracking, we have not separated pipelines yet.  We're working with Gen. Raymond to do this on a deliberate basis, and are, you know, in discussions with how he wants to proceed forward.  You know, we're pre-decisional on whether he decides they will stay with Air Force basic training or they'll develop their own and be in a different location, or maybe they'll be at the same base, but a different wing.  Those are conversations that are ongoing.  But for right now, those that have been or will be identified as Space are continuing just like all of the airmen that I've been addressing so far in BMT go.  So we're kind of pre-decisional on the breakout, and for the specifics AFSCs that we have in the pipeline right now identified for space, I don't have them.  I'll have to have our PA folks circle back with you on that.

Q:  So basically it's sort of that same 60% level then is applied, you would guess, sort of across Space Force, as well.

GEN. WEBB:  Yeah, if I was to hazard a guess, I'd say it would be the same as the general population numbers of, it would be in that percentage.  Over.

STAFF:  Courtney Albon from Inside Defense.

Q:  Hi.  Thanks for -- thanks for doing this.

In an earlier discussion around the pipeline you had mentioned there's a cache in your training pipeline that eventually, as this continues, you'll start to eat into.  Can you talk a little bit about what that means that you eat into that cache, but also at what point you expect, based on the current situation, at what point you expect to start eating into that?

GEN. WEBB:  Yeah, I did -- I did say that we had a degree of cache.  It's not that extensive, obviously.  If we had that much fluff in the system we would have leaned that out a long time ago.  And, we did take a reschedule week last week, as you know. We received zero trainees, so now we're hitting on a 60%, or whatever that percentage pace is.  So we're going to be eating into it in very short order.  I don't have the exact, you know, date that we’ll start eating into it. But, if we haven't started this week or the next week, it'll be very soon.  Over.

Q:  OK, thanks.

STAFF:  And Ms. Garnier from Newsy.

Q:  Yes, good morning.  Thank you for taking my question.

Can you give some examples of what exactly is being done during training to adhere to social distancing guidelines?  And then I have a follow up after that one.

GEN. WEBB:  OK, yeah.

Well, we, you know, in line with the Secretary of Defense's guidance with respect to PPE, or personal protective equipment, we're adhering to all of those.  You will have seen all our trainees and trainers with the masks and gloves, et cetera, where appropriate.

We've also taken to the six-foot distancing on all the training.  We have spread out classroom, dorm room and dining facility distances.  So you can imagine the infrastructure there, everything gets spread out.  So more infrastructure is taken up. More MTIs, or training instructors, are needed to enable the appropriate training conditions to continue.

And, then we've just made an assessment on what training needs to be modified so that this is, again, business as required, not business as usual. We continue to advance basic training, but without violating the physical distancing to the utmost extent that we can and still produce a viable airmen.  Over.

Q:  Are trainees still required to, like, sleep on bunkbeds?  Cause I know in 2010, when I was in basic training, you were in large bays with bunkbeds and, like, everyone had to shower in one shower at the same time.  So are some of those things being changed, as well?

And then also, once the airmen go to tech school, are their living situations changed, as well?  So are they going to have their own rooms, or are they still going to be bunked up with other airmen?  How has that changed, as well?

GEN. WEBB:  Yeah, so if you have a mental picture of a open bay barracks and then numbers. I don't have – I don’t know the exact numbers that are in a room, but it's about half of that. So you have bunks where it’s basically -- the dorms that I've walked through here in the last couple of weeks, you have a single bed followed by a bunkbed followed by a single bed followed by a bunkbed and they're spread out.

So you have about half the number that you would have, to ensure that we keep the physical distancing.  And you'll note I'm using that term physical distancing, as opposed to social distancing, intentionally, so that we -- you know, just mentally, we stay in the mindset of, hey, socially connected, physically distanced.

But we keep that appropriate.  That applies in BMT, it also applies the same way in technical training schoolhouse, as well.  Over.

STAFF:  So is there ...

Q:  Just one more.

STAFF:  OK, sure.

Q:  General, is it really the same experience that those instructors aren't blasting the recruits like an inch away from their faces and sometimes, you know, by accident, spit does go on them?

GEN. WEBB:  The training instructors are adhering to the physical distancing just like the rest of us and that has been instructed.  We are using the facemasks and the PPE in all of our training.  Over.

Q:  But is it the same experience, General?

GEN. WEBB:  Well, I mean, it isn't exactly the same.  I would tell you I keep returning to the chief's phrase, cause he phrased it the best -- this is business as required, not business as usual.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Is there anyone else on the phone that joined late that has a question they'd like to ask?


Q:  … may I ask a question?

STAFF:  Go ahead.  Was there another question?  Go ahead.

Q:  … (inaudible).

GEN. WEBB:  Hey, Ann, Ann, I didn't quite get to finish that -- my statement.  If I could just finish that one piece on, is it the same experience?  I can tell you having been out there five times in the last two weeks, the MTIs are very effective at getting their training done, even with the physical distancing and the other procedures that we've put in place.

OK, that was the end of that one.  Back to you.

STAFF:  Thank you, General.  This is Tara Copp with McClatchy.

I wanted to get a few more details on the move of some training to Keesler.  Will the airmen be bussed down there?  What is Keesler doing to prepare to house them?  How many airmen are you talking about and how are you going to recreate that experience down there?

Thank you.

GEN. WEBB:  Right.

So Keesler's under way.  They received their first tranche -- well, their -- their proof of concept tranche -- on Tuesday.  The number that we've targeted is 60.  We have military training instructors that we have flown over to Keesler Air Force Base from Lackland to be part of that experience.

We have the proper, you know, ratios of training to trainees there and it's really replicated.  We have the ability to do all of the kind of basic -- the very -- you know, first week, all the way through end week training done, to include the field experience opportunities there in Mississippi, as we do in Lackland.  Over.

Q:  And after the proof of concept tranche, how many do you envision going through Keesler?

GEN. WEBB:  Right.

I think right now, while I won't -- you can't hold me to this, you know, forever, cause we maybe need to make adjustments or may see the opportunity to make adjustments, but we think 60 is the right figure.

You know, be appreciative that Keesler does a vast bulk of our technical training, as well. So it's not like the base is empty.  But we do have the capacity, for sure, for 60. If our proof of concept, you know, proves out and we make the decision to continue with this.  Over.

Q:  Got it.

And just one clarification, you mean 60 with each incoming flight, like over and over, not 60 total, correct?

GEN. WEBB:  That's right.  60 per tranche.

Now we’re doing one right now, until we are satisfied that the proof of concept is successful.  So in other words, you won't see another 60 happen on Tuesday coming -- upcoming, until I make the decision that this is something that we want to do that’s viable.

I don't expect that probably for another three or four weeks, because I want to get through the field part of the training to have assessed it in its entirety.  Over.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  OK.  General Webb, do you have any closing comments?

GEN. WEBB:  Yes, I do, thank you.

We share the same sentiment as everyone else in that we've never seen anything like this.  We've all deployed and fought enemies abroad.  However, today's enemy is here in our communities.

This reality affects all of us, including our families.  It's a challenge that we must fight through.  We don't know what new normal will look like until we get to the other side.  Regardless of the challenges we face, our mission remains the same -- to create ready and lethal airmen who fuel the Air and Space Force.  That mission and our standards will not change.

Within (inaudible) we’ve adopted the hashtag #CalmIsContagious.  We're asking our members to trust in their leaders.  Commanders at all levels are working hard and making tough decisions in an environment where there are no easy answers.

Physical distancing, teleworking, restriction of movement, none of that is easy.  We're making decisions to protect our military and our communities as best we can, and they will change as we go through this together.

We stand together to fight through this.  Please be safe, take care of each other and thank you everybody for your time today.

Thank you, Ann.

STAFF:  Thanks, everybody, for joining us today.  If you have any follow-up questions, please get with Marilyn Holliday at Air Education and Training Command or feel free to shoot me a note as well.

Thank you.

[*Eds. Note:  Gen. Webb was referring to COVID-positives across the force here.]