Transcript

Department Of Defense Off-Camera Press Briefing On Coronavirus Response

March 4, 2020
Bob Salesses, Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Homeland Defense And Defense Support Of Civil Authorities; Brigadier General Paul Friedrichs, Joint Staff Surgeon, Joint Chiefs Of Staff; Jonathan Rath Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)

ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MR. HOFFMAN: Again, this is going to be off-camera, on the record. And no more than 30 minutes. Please make sure your phones are silenced.

All right, everybody. Thank you. Is everybody in their assigned seats? We good, no problems? All right, good. All right.

So we will go ahead and we'll try to be quick because I know everybody wants to be able to pay attention to the hearing. We're going to try to do these updates on a regular basis. We're trying to work out the timeline on that, as you can imagine. The two gentlemen here are incredibly busy.

Bob Salesses is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense and -- what's the second part?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE BOB SALESSES: Defense Support of Civil Authorities.

MR. HOFFMAN: Yeah. And General Friedrichs is the joint staff surgeon. So these two people probably more than all but a couple of other people in the building are the most involved in our coronavirus response coordination and planning. And so I asked them to come down. Focus -- want to talk about generally how we're structured in this. We've been doing meetings and updates for at least the last six, seven weeks since we got the first RFAs [Requests For Assistance] from -- from HHS [Department of Health and Human Services], and have been -- been working on the issue. Starting to shift some of our focus and -- and what we're doing, and I thought it might be a useful time to get an update on what that looks like, and then some questions.

So I'll turn it over to -- to Bob.

MR. SALESSES: Great. I thought I'd just provide a really quick overview. As -- as Jonathan indicated, we've been involved in this since the -- the end of January, really, when the first airplane was brought back from Hubei Province. And that really started DOD's involvement in this process, where we were asked by HHS and the State Department to begin to house patients that were, I guess, U.S. citizens coming back in quarantine. That started the process.

But I think it's more important to start with the broader overview than that activity because I think it's important to recognize the Defense Department has been doing pandemic planning for the last 20 years. We have a very robust planning effort, as you know, in the Defense Department, and we been planning for pandemics for a long time. All the COCOMs [Combatant Commands] have plans. The services have plans, and so the opportunity to think through these challenges collectively as an -- as an enterprise has been in place for a very long time. On top of that, I think Paul and I both have experience with SARS, MERS, H1N1, Ebola, and then ZIKA, so there's a lot of experience in the department with dealing with these kinds of issues. 

I do think, obviously, the secretary's priority of the protection of our service members and their families and the workforce, the safeguarding of our mission capabilities, our readiness, and then working in support of our partners out there, whether that's HHS, CDC [Centers for Disease Control] or potentially even USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] and State Department in the future as -- as this virus, obviously, goes around the world in -- in those locations. 

I think the key, too, is the areas that we're currently focused on. So there’s -- I think there's about six or seven areas as the department that we're very focused on, and that's, first, our force self-protection responsibilities, and that encompasses a lot, and we'll talk about that in a minute.

The other thing, obviously, is mission readiness, understanding what our essential responsibilities are, the missions are, how we're able to execute this, and there's a lot of work going in that; the logistic support that's required in these kinds of events -- talk about PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], supply chain management, those kinds of things -- I think they're all important; the support that we're providing to other partners out there as we have been; and then as we look internationally, on what we're doing in that regard.

So those are the broad categories that we're focused on as a department, and where we're working in support of this effort. We can talk in detail about what's happening in Italy and -- and certainly, in South Korea, and what our focus is there. But we're really in two phases: both always looking to contain the virus; at the same time, through our planning processes, we have a mitigation phase, and that's where we begin to take a number of actions to try to prevent the spread of the virus. And there's both actions that we can take in social distancing and those kinds of things, alternate work schedules, those kinds of activities. And then from a medical preparedness perspective, what we do to ensure that we have the capabilities, when we do have somebody that may be positive in this area.

And I’ll turn to Paul to talk more about that. But I'll just start with that, and then, Paul, over to you.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAUL FRIEDRICHS: Sir, thank you very much.

And thank you all. So from the force health protection standpoint, as DASD Salesses just mentioned, we really started in mid- to late-January, looking at this. And as you all have heard, there's still a lot that we're learning. The term originally was novel coronavirus, it's a new virus.

And so we put now out three sets of guidance to the field on force health protection, as we've learned more about the specifics of the virus. And everything that we published has been aligned with and derived from the guidance that the Centers for Disease Control has put out. So we start with whatever the CDC guidance is at the federal level, and then we adapt that to what we're doing within the department.

And as you -- as DASD Salesses has mentioned and as you can imagine, for us, that's a very broad area to cover geographically because we have people in all sorts of locations that sometimes are very different than what's here in the United States.

Our policy has to cover the soldier in Africa as much as it does the sailor who's on a ship somewhere in the Pacific, or the family member or retiree who's here in the continental United States.

So we start with whatever the federal guidance is, and then we add additional guidance to help clarify what the standards are or how we're going to minimize the risk to force across the world. And we provide broad guidance, then the geographic combatant commanders provide additional guidance specific to where they're located.

Thus far, we have been very -- very much able to respond to the small number of folks who have been identified with coronavirus. As you probably heard, we have one active duty member in Korea who's been diagnosed with coronavirus, he's currently in the hospital being treated and is doing well. His wife and child are also being treated and are doing well. And then we have a retiree’s widow who has been diagnosed.

Those are small numbers. And so I don't want to seem like I'm being a Pollyanna here and saying everything is rosy. But really, the numbers within the DOD that we're treating are very small. And they're all getting the care that they need, based on the CDC guidelines.

I -- you know, as this evolves, we'll have to adapt to it and continue to learn from it. And as the CDC is changing their guidance, we will also change ours.

In the mid to long term, you probably heard the discussion about medical countermeasures in vaccines, and that's something that we're also very involved in. The Department of Defense for years has had a very robust research and development program, looking at viral illnesses and we've been working on that in a number of our labs, in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC.

And we've continued that partnership -- in fact, we had -- several of our staff had a meeting with the interagency today, looking at additional research areas on which we're going to continue to work.

Similarly in the vaccine arena, our labs have been working on vaccines and we are partnering with HHS and CDC on developing vaccine candidates. And I use that word very carefully and deliberately because vaccines are tricky. It's not something where you can say, oh, here's the cookbook answer, just go make it in the lab and it's going to be good.

You know, because this is a new virus, we have to develop potential vaccines for it and then test them before say that we actually have a vaccine that will work.

So all of those are measures that are under way. Again, we're doing it very much in tandem with and in alignment with what the rest of the government is doing. And because of our international connections, we also have the benefit of regular discussions with our allies and partners around the world, leveraging what they're sharing with us about what they're seeing and what they're doing, which again helps to inform how we best ensure the health of our service members and preserve our mission capability.

And I think I'll stop at that point.

MR. HOFFMAN: Bob, anything else? Are you good?

MR. SALESSES: No. Again, I -- the focus of course, beyond our mission readiness and our essential functions, and obviously the secretary and the chairman and the COCOMs of the services are all focused on that, making sure we're prepared to execute all our national security responsibilities as this progresses.

MR. HOFFMAN: OK.

Q: Hi, Lolita Baldor with A.P. One quick clarification and then a broader question.

Does the -- the service member's wife and child, did -- were they all -- were they also -- tested positive for the virus?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So, ma'am, I'm going to ask -- the short answer is yes. And you know, again, this is a -- this isn't on the record, but I would just ask that you all preserve the -- the family's privacy there a little bit. If you’d not call out the location, you know, I would appreciate that.

Q: So and then a -- a broader question --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: -- General Abrams and his wife met them and posted on Twitter?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Good. In that case, it's out there. All right. I'm just -- as a doctor, I'm very sensitive to HIPAA, so I'm trying to -- trying to protect the patient. I appreciate if General Abrams has already put it out there. Thank you.

Q: And then a broader question. It would be really helpful if you could sketch on, in detail, some of the measures that have been taken by the Defense Department to limit travel or have ships take specific spaces of time between deployments. If you could lay out some of those in basic COCOMs for us, and is there a move to limit travel from within the United States by either Defense Department officials or Congress or anyone to various portions of the world – PACOM [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command], the AOR [Area Of Responsibility], things like that?

MR. SALESSES: So, yeah, if -- I'll start and then we can -- so obviously, in a situation like this, we look at all of that. The first thing that's happening is OPM [Office of Personnel Management] is doing that, for government-wide. And their guidance should be out shortly.

Obviously, there's a designated --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: They're doing -- sorry, doing --

MR. SALESSES: You know, the kinds of things as it relates to personnel in regards to essential personnel, traveling, those kinds of things, making policy in regards to how the federal workforce should approach this.

Obviously, we have a lot of experience in this area and USD P&R, who’s part of the department in this regard, has those kinds of policies. We've used them in the past. We'll be looking at all of those, depending on where -- what the specific situation is, and making decisions on, you know, travel restrictions, essential personnel, conferences and all those kinds of things.

All those decisions will be made -- try to be made at the lowest level, where the individuals are responsible for that. But there will be guidance that will be provided to the department on that kind of activity.

And depending on where you are -- for example, General Abrams, as you've already pointed out, you've been to the website, you know that they -- they're isolating a number of the forces on the installation, they have travel restrictions, they're doing that, they're designating essential people, they're telecommuting, they're reducing the number of gatherings they have.

All those kinds of activities are mitigation actions that are identified in the plans. And actually identified in documents that we have in the department. There's actually a great document in the department that talks about force health conditions, and we have -- at the force health condition levels, it actually identifies steps that should be taken when you increase those. So depending on where you are, that's how it'll be implemented.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. SALESSES: And then there's a whole medical preparedness.

Q: -- my question is, can you tell us specifically what those are as it stands today around the globe?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So we would be here for probably two hours, because it -- you know, you've heard the expression, "all healthcare is local" and I'm not trying to be flippant when I say that but what we have tried very hard to do, start with the federal guidance that's come out, put DOD bounds on it within our authorities, and then empower the local commanders to make the decision about what's the right risk tolerance within their community?

So the document that DASD Salesses was talking about is called our -- DOD Instruction 6200.03 and it's Public Health Emergency Operations and it lays out a whole series of considerations that commanders should look at as they make a decision.

So you mentioned ships. You know, the commander in the Pacific had decided that he was going to take certain actions to protect the crew and make sure that as they move from port to port, they're doing everything to maintain the capability of the crew there. Very reasonable and what we'd expect them to do.

If you go to CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command], again, there are certain areas within CENTCOM where there are outbreaks, where they've made decisions to restrict voluntary non-mission essential travel to areas where there are known outbreaks. Very reasonable. I think any -- any common sense person would say probably don't want to go to an area that has an outbreak if I'm not in one right now.

So those are commander-level decisions where we have started with a federal guidance then provided DOD guidance and then allowed them to make the local decisions based on the federal and DOD guidance.

MR. HOFFMAN: And that -- just to pile on that, that could go down even below, you know, the -- the combatant commander to the -- to the installation commander. So in Korea, you have an installation commander who -- who may be making decisions specific to that installation based on what's happening within that local environment.

So the -- the goal is -- as Bob mentioned, is to get the decision making down to the lowest level possible so they can make the most informed decisions. Phil?

Q: This is sort of a follow up and then a different question. So is there any thought about restricting travel by people who are in contact with the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, restricted in their ability to move into areas where there might be a -- a higher risk?

And then separately, my question was about the testing criteria. What is the testing criteria for a -- for a -- for -- for the DOD? Is it -- I mean, is it -- is it exactly the same as the CDC testing criteria?

MR. SALESSES: We'll take both of those. So obviously the Secretary and the President, they have their own security elements and they're making those decisions based on force health guidance with those kinds of things. So that'll be specific to them on what they choose to do and choose not to do.

Paul, do you want to talk about that?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So they -- they have a medical team, you know, that travels with and assesses the risk, depending on where they're going. As far as the testing, yes, we're following the CDC guidance. So, you know, as that's updated, we update it, as well. So ... 

Q: How does that apply, though? Because, you know, if you're living abroad and you're living in South Korea, I mean how does the CDC guidance or in -- you know, how does the CDC guidance apply to whether you test someone?

MR. SALESSES: It's worldwide, the CDC guidance.

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So -- so, you know, Korea's a great example where we have a lab that is receiving the -- the ability to do the tests there. So we start with the most basic -- do you feel sick? And if you feel sick and you've got cold symptoms, there's a long list of things that could be related to coronavirus, then typically what we'll do is we'll check and see do you have influenza A or influenza B, because those are the most common things that will cause people to feel sick right now. We've got, you know, that -- that flu bug -- two of them going around the world right now.

So if you're negative for both of those and you're in an area in which there's coronavirus, then very plausible to want to check for coronavirus and do the tests for that. And as that -- then as those kits have gone out, that’s made it much easier to do the test, so the -- you know, now that it's available, now that we've sequenced the genome, we're able to do that and do that confirmatory test along the way.

Q: But the test is a very -- it's a limited resource, you can only carry out so many tests with each kit, so….

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So, you know, again, I'll go back to new virus -- someone asked me the other day, you know, why didn't we have those tests last year? Well the virus didn't exist last year, we didn't know about it and so, you know, built the test capability and we've been rolling it out to our labs so that we can then do the testing as we go ... 

MR. HOFFMAN: And then I think the -- the last part on that was, as you mentioned, staying in an oversea location, working with not just our CDC but also with the foreign national government so the -- the – the, what was it? The…

(CROSSTALK)

MR. SALESSES: ...the Korean CDC. There’s tremendous relationships and networks that the U.S. CDC has around the world with the other Centers for Disease Control, in particular.

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: And if I can just piggyback on that comment cause that's -- that's a great point, that, you know -- you asked about following the CDC guidance. Yes, we're part of the U.S. government and as they put out guidance, that's where we start.

If in Korea, for example, the Korean CDC says, you know, we think that this is really important to do in this area, that's going to inform the decision that the Commander and his healthcare team make in that area. Not that we're going to do disregard what our CDC says but it's how do we get as much information as possible to lower the risk as much as we can with what we know, what the Koreans have shared?

Q: And just to be clear, you said -- you were talking about -- I know that -- that U.S. forces in Japan (inaudible) and in Korea have been actually going to local authorities for the tests because they have a really fast turnaround time and they have a lot more capacity.

Is that still the preferred option, even as these test kits go out?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So the policy that we've implemented is if your initial test is positive, regardless of where you are anywhere in the world -- in the United States, Korea, wherever -- for one of our beneficiaries, then we send a second test to Atlanta for confirmation. That's the same thing that we would do if they were positive at Lackland or anywhere else.

So we are leveraging whatever lab test and capability is available but we are sending a confirmatory test to Atlanta if -- if the first one comes back positive. Does that answer your question?

Q: I’m just wondering if you’re still going to local authorities... 

(CROSSTALK)

MR. SALESSES: I mean, the bottom line is we're going to maximize the resource capabilities that we have. That's really -- whether it's in Korea ... 

MR. HOFFMAN: Let me get to a couple more people. Courtney?

Q: I just want to be sure, when you -- when you said that OPM is doing this government-wide announcement that's coming out, are you -- that -- you're not announcing that there's some essential personnel announcement coming out of OPM, right?

MR. SALESSES: But they define all of the -- I mean, they will provide some further guidance on -- on how we're going to approach this from a workforce perspective. So, you know, they have all different kinds of categories and criteria as they look through that.

It'll be very broad guidance, it'll be left up to the Departments and agencies to manage that at the next level down. They just provide that -- you know, big, broad guidance.

Q: But that's what's coming out today, just -- so I wanted to be sure because I -- I thought for a second maybe you were announcing they were implementing some kind of a government-wide ... 

(CROSSTALK)

MR. SALESSES: The guidances in development should -- should be out today. It may be out tomorrow but it'll be out shortly.

(CROSSTALK)

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: ... in many of these areas, I mean, there's guidance coming out every day. The CDC, I think, one day posted like 13 new documents of different types of guidance. So there's OPM guidance, CDC guidance, there's a lot of guidance coming out as we learn more about this and different agencies take the appropriate next steps to update their existing guidance. 

(CROSSTALK)

MR. HOFFMAN: ... I think -- I think Bob's point on raising that was that we're nestled under OPM, we're still a part of the federal workforce. Although we're a large part of the federal workforce spread all over the world, we still have to look at -- for guidance for the rest of the interagencies. We're working closely with them.

I want to keep moving around, so ... 

Q: And then just very quickly, just to (inaudible) since you mentioned logistics. Is -- is -- has there been any impact on logistics specifically in the places where there's been some outbreaks? Are you having to get supplies from other places? Are you having a hard time bringing supplies into places, especially Iraq, Afghanistan, war zones ... 

(CROSSTALK)

... any impact at all you can ... 

MR. SALESSES: We're constantly assessing that but I'm -- I'm not aware of any -- any challenges at this point.

MR. HOFFMAN: OK. Barbara?

Q: Even though OPM has not come out officially yet, sir, I do want to ask you because you talked about you always -- you have 20 years of pandemic planning, mission -- mission essential in this building, this is a different workforce than much of the other federal workforce.

So as -- specifically as you can, what is the plan for the Pentagon if and when you get someone to testing positive in this building? What is it that you will do? And I wanted to ask the doctor separately, do you have any data emerging on the rate of false positives in testing? But you first.

MR. SALESSES: So -- so I -- I -- I will have to defer that to WHS [Washington Headquarters Services]. I know they're working on that guidance. They have a plan, again, to – and they're working to begin with -- with all of the organizations in the Pentagon and they will be providing that guidance shortly.

Q: I mean no disrespect, but really? None of the three of you know what the plan is for the Pentagon? Let me broaden it to all three of you. What is the plan...

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: Yes, I -- I'm -- I'm happy to answer the question. So it depends on, you know, again, it...

MR. SALESSES: Yeah.

Q: You get a positive. You get a positive in this building. You know that someone who works in here or has been here, and you know they're positive. What do you do?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So whether it's -- so if they are otherwise asymptomatic there's -- there's a long answer to your question. So if they have a positive test and they're not having any symptoms, then they home-quarantine. If they are sick they get the appropriate care that they need. Once we identify someone who's positive, then we do contact tracing to see who else has been around them and who else might have been exposed to it through them, and depending on where they are, they may also be home-quarantined or asked to stay in their home for two weeks, or if they're showing any signs of cold-like symptoms, then we treat them, as well.

But the key thing is it -- it depends, which is not a -- I know, a desirable answer, but it really depends on the individual. And when you say "They get sick," are they a positive test? Are they a positive test and having symptoms? And if they're having symptoms, how severe are their symptoms? 

Q: In this building, though -- and I'll be quick, Jonathan. I'm not going to do 43 questions. Contact tracing is an interesting prospect given the amount of people that walk through this building. Are you convinced you can keep the Pentagon open and running?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: Ma'am, I think every building and every organization has plans if there's a growing level of infection in a community to reduce access, and DASD Salesses had mentioned that, that if -- in Korea, example, they have already restricted access. So it will depend on what's happening in the community as to what -- what level of engagement there is with people coming in and out of the building.

MR. SALESSES: Yeah, let me try to answer this, though, because I -- I -- I want to be clear. I have full confidence that the -- that there is -- no matter what the challenge is, that in this building, that we'll be able to operate. We've done a lot of analysis over the years, and -- and Dr. Friedrichs, General Friedrichs can talk to this. 

Look, at the -- the normal flu season, there's a percentage of people that get that, right? It's like 16, 17 percent. This may be a little bit higher, but that's not going to create a workforce challenge that this -- this department's not going to be able to handle and this -- the -- the Pentagon won't be able to handle. There'll be a percentage of people if -- if this comes -- the virus comes here that will -- will obviously be out -- out of work for some period of time for that, or be, you know, whatever the social distancing requirement is, or the quarantine requirement. But that will not impact the operations at this department. It will not impact the operations of the -- the Pentagon.

Q: Any data on false positives, General?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So I -- I do not have data on false positives. I think it's a great question for CDC because they really have been doing the data analysis on that.

MR. HOFFMAN: And -- and just the -- the final part on that is the secretary's mentioned, the number one priority is force self-protection, and the number two is the focus on the mission, and so that's something that we've been looking at. And as -- as Bob mentioned, as we push things down the combatant commanders to the services to focus on pushing it down to WHS to -- to make sure that they have the -- the measures and – and the guidances published out to the -- the workforce here in the building.

MR. SALESSES: And we've done a lot of, again, I -- I'd just echo. We've done a lot of analysis on these kinds of events, and the bottom line is our ability to execute our mission-essential functions is not degraded in these kinds of environments because we have the workforce and the capability to do that. There will, obviously, be some absenteeism, those kinds of things, but it won't degrade the mission capabilities of the Defense Department.

MR. HOFFMAN: Jeff…

MR. SALESSES: …or this building.

Q: Thank you. I just have one question. This 2016 Joint Staff review of the Ebola response found that one difficulty was DOD was sharing the majority of its information about Ebola on the SIPRNET, and that made it difficult to share with other government agencies like the CDC. I'm presuming that DOD, most of the information about coronavirus is on the SIPRNET. How are you sharing that with your government partners?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So actually, most of it is on the NIPRNET, you know, the -- if we look at what the CDC has put out, if we look at what other agencies have put out, that's all on the unclassified side, and that's widely shared. We get updates and send updates back and forth. 

MR. SALESSES: Daily. Daily. 

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: I -- I'd just tell you, my -- my email volume has gone from a couple hundred a day to 4- or 500 a day, and most of it is interagency emails going back and forth.

MR. SALESSES: And OSD talk -- talking to the Joint Staff, so...

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: Yes, absolutely. So I -- I've not heard any complaints, and if you have, please let us know, but we've not heard any complaints or concerns expressed by interagency partners, and we meet with them multiple times a day, and...

MR. HOFFMAN: Yeah, so, good.

MR. HOFFMAN: Ciatlin?

Q: Caitlin Kenney with Stars and Stripes. Now that it's March and PCS season is pretty much on the horizon, what is the plan for families that are returning CONUS and families that are planning to go OCONUS to Korea or Japan, overseas?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So I'm going to sound like a broken record and say it depends, and it depends on a couple of things. First, is this a seasonal virus? 

Q: Right.

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: Because if this -- you know, we don't know and -- and, you know, and this is not that anybody's not doing their job. We just don't know. But if this tapers off in the next few weeks here, in the next six or eight weeks, then it's not really a huge issue in the summer. It'll potentially come back in the fall, and then we'll have to deal with that in the fall. If it doesn't taper off, then it absolutely becomes an issue, but this is part of -- going back to a couple of your earlier questions. This is part of that learning that we're all going through of, what is this virus going to do, and how best we respond to it as we go forward.

Q: So you don't have any…sorry? You don't have anything on, right now, what the plan is that -- if it does continue through PCS season?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So we are looking at a range of options, but it'll really depend on what happens with the virus. You know, it -- it -- if -- and it'll depend on where the location is. You know, right now is it's spreading and it's multiple locations. It'll kind of get easier in some respects, because if it's everywhere like the flu is and like many other bugs are, then it's not necessarily going to be as big of a challenge to come up with country-specific policy. But I think we'll know more in a couple of months.

MR. SALESSES: Yeah, and we're always evaluating those...

MR. HOFFMAN: Right.

MR. SALESSES: ... you know, the exact kind of issues that you -- and that's ongoing, always, right now, that...

Q: So Jim Garamone with DOD News. The -- all of the announcements talk about the people most at risk are the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. I went around the building this morning and asked random soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines what a compromised immune system is -- or -- is, and I got answers from "I don't have to worry about coronavirus because I don't have AIDS" to, you know, "Oh, it's diabetes". What are you telling soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines what a compromised immune system is?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So if they're more prone to catch a cold than the rest of their family or their coworkers, then that's, in all likelihood -- you know, if there's someone who routinely catches -- gets sick before anybody else, then we definitely want to make sure that we're aware of that. If there's someone who has a malignancy or they're being treated with chemotherapy, we're very specific about those groups, wanting to make sure that we watch them. If they're already sick, if they've recently had an illness and they're recovering from that, then they may get another illness because their immune system is focusing on their immediate illness that they're recovering from right now.

So there's a -- there's a host of potential explanations that can affect your immune system. What we're trying very hard to do is not -- not scare people by saying everybody is at risk, ‘cause that's not true -- it -- it's just not true.

You know, if -- if you're like most, you know, foreign personnel are under the age of 30, which is true about most uniformed people, and you're doing your PT and you're able to serve on active duty, by definition you don't have a compromised immune system, with the exception of a very small percentage that we've kept with conditions that we're treating.

Q: But most of those -- it's a married force now ... 

(CROSSTALK)

Q: ... and they have spouses ... 

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: Yes. Absolutely.

Q: ... and children. And would -- would, like, chronic conditions like asthma or -- or other chronic conditions maybe be a -- a -- more of a problem than ... 

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So we're still learning which conditions -- and if you look at the articles that have been published -- I was looking at something that's -- that was provided by one of the agencies and it was 18 pages of articles that have been published in the last six weeks, single print in a single line for each article.

We're still learning which groups are at most risk. You know, it -- it -- so is it the 40 year old with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at higher risk than the 42 year old who has asthma than the 29 year old? What we're just not seeing is people under the age of 20 really getting sick with this, regardless of what else they have. Just not seeing that in any of the reported literature.

And the older you are, the more diverse the data is that we're collecting, but I don't think we're at a point where we can answer your question definitively and say this specific group of illnesses puts you at a higher risk. That's why we're trying to keep it pretty broad right now.

MR. HOFFMAN: OK. I think -- keep moving it along so we get (inaudible).

Q: Mike Glenn with the Washington Times. So yesterday, General Funk at Army TRADOC [U.S. ARMY TRAINING AND DOCTRINE COMMAND] said that all Army recruits are being formally tested for corona as soon as they get out the bus but before they begin the end process -- the normal end processing period.

Do you know if that's going to be the case for the other services, as well?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: Sir, I -- I do not know the answer to that question. We can check and see what the other services are doing but I do not know what each service is doing at this point for their new recruits.

MR. HOFFMAN: OK.

Q: Lara Seligman with Politico. Can you just say quickly who is it that's paying for the testing -- the test -- the test kits? Is it -- is it DOD, is it the labs, is it HHS? And then more broadly, can you say what kind of impact this has had on readiness so far in terms of some exercises have been canceled and I believe some travel has been canceled for some of the generals. So can you just say what kind -- can you characterize what impact that has had?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So I'm not sure you're going to like my answer -- I'm not actually sure who's paying for it. I know it's not the individual DOD beneficiaries. So we're not charging a member if they get the coronavirus test done.

When we get the kits from CDC, I don't know if we're paying them for those kits. We can get you that answer. But what we are not doing, because of the TRICARE benefit and the way it's structured, we're not charging people to have that lab test done.

From the standpoint of readiness impacts, you know, we're working through that right now but, you know, from a medical standpoint, I feel very comfortable telling you that we've had very low numbers, as I mentioned earlier, who have gotten sick. So we're not seeing broad swathes of the population who are not able to do their job.

Beyond that, I'm not sure I really feel comfortable saying, you know, specific by unit what the readiness impact is along the way but we -- you know, as we've gone through and reviewed that, that remains the priority, to ensure that we're preserving the readiness of the force by preserving the health of the force. So that's really what we're focused on.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. SALESSES: ... I just -- again, I -- I point to the fact that with -- you know, we're -- we're always assessing our readiness and at this point we don't see any readiness issues associated with this.

MR. HOFFMAN: Yeah, I -- I think you see that there are a number of exercises we're still continuing with -- Cobra Gold, Defender 2020 -- there's exercises that we're still moving on. There have been a couple small ones that we have delayed but -- but you're not going to see an impact on our readiness in the -- the -- the six weeks since the coronavirus has really popped up. We haven't seen that.

Q: Hi. Travis Tritten, Bloomberg. This small number of cases, do you attribute that to these measures that you've -- you've taken and do you anticipate a wider outbreak? Should we expect to see more cases among service members and the dependents?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So, you know, I -- I'll echo what the CDC and the NIH [National Institutes of Health] and everybody else has said -- we are all eager to know what is going to happen next with this virus. We're certainly seeing it continue to spread, and as it spreads, because our people are in the communities where the virus is located, we're going to be watching very carefully to see how many of them get sick.

I mentioned a moment ago the 18 pages of articles that have been published on this. We're still learning who is most likely to get sick. You know, someone brought the question up in a different forum about does everybody who becomes infected get sick? It appears the answer to that is no, there are some cases where you may actually have the virus, as is true with most viruses, in your system and not yet have symptoms.

That -- you know, those are all things that we're still working our way through to understand how frequently that happens and for how long that may happen but I fully expect that if we're in a community like in Korea, where there's a large outbreak right now of coronavirus, as we're seeing already, that yes, we'll probably have some people who will get coronavirus and that's why we're taking all of these precautions to mitigate that risk to the individuals and then mitigate the risk to the force and to the mission there.

MR. SALESSES: Yeah, I think some of the steps HHS and CDC put in place as it related to people coming from China -- you know, we have these funneling airports, you're familiar with that concept, and -- and the way people are screened. I think it's well over 55,000 people who have been screened. 

You know, obviously bringing the -- the U.S. citizens and -- and the State Department employees back and putting them in quarantine, all of that containment activity helps to limit the spread of the -- the disease. And then the work that is being done and the mitigation actions that we just spoke about -- you know, when -- when the -- we can begin to employ certain techniques and procedures and protocols to limit our exposure to -- to the potential virus, that all helps. 

And so it's a combination of those things, like a multi-layered approach to the -- to the challenge, and doing that effectively is -- is the key to that, along with the -- the medical countermeasures of the -- you know, the diagnostics and the testing and the vaccines development and the PPE, all of that feeds into this in a very, very constructive way that allows us to limit the -- the challenge of the virus spreading.

MR. HOFFMAN: I'm going to ... 

Q: ... if I can quickly follow up? Apologies if I missed this before but how many tests have been administered to service members, civilians and dependents?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: Don't know. Actually, I just asked that question yesterday and I haven't seen an answer back, so I -- I don't know the answer.

Q: ... any estimates?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: No, I -- I don't -- I just haven't ... 

MR. SALESSES: But in fairness, if I could add, we just don't test everybody, right? It's -- it's a matter of whether they're -- (inaudible) -- whether they're symptomatic and those kinds of things. Obviously there is -- like in South Korea and Italy, where there's a higher propensity of the virus, more people are being tested there, but to just start testing people for the sake of testing, we wouldn't do that ... 

(CROSSTALK)

... we would focus on the -- the areas.

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: Right and -- and so, you know, we routinely test -- excuse me -- people who come in to our clinics with flu-like symptoms for a myriad of things. And right now, truly the bigger concern from a medical standpoint is the influenza A and the influenza B bugs that are out there, that we know are out there that are infecting thousands of people. Those are the recurring, annual flu bugs that come through.

And so that's something that we do every year and we're continuing to do. If someone comes in and they have flu-like symptoms, you know, we assume they probably have the flu because that's pretty much worldwide right now and then we test them for that. If they are in Korea and they have flu-like symptoms, then we would also want to test for coronavirus. 

That -- that -- I hope that helps to clarify ... 

MR. HOFFMAN: And I think to -- to that point is -- once again, pushing it back out to the field, the command and the unit, they're responsible for determining if somebody needs to be tested and making sure that takes place. We're going to do one more -- Lucas -- and then we've got to go because of the hearing.

Q: Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News. Do you know where this virus originated?

GENERAL FRIEDRICHS: So all the -- all the reporting indicated that the first cases were identified in China.

Q: Do you know specifically where in China, what kind of facility? 

MR. HOFFMAN: We're good -- we're good on that question. We've -- we've -- we're -- we're -- so we -- we owe you guys to get back on the one question on who is paying for the test kits. We have had conversations with comptrollers on the side of a conversation earlier about this, and so I think I have an -- know what the answer is but before getting it to you, I would like to -- to -- to get back to you guys on that, so we'll bring that back to you.

Q: And, excuse me, and a number of service members tested. I think that’s a pretty straightforward question.

MR. HOFFMAN: That’s fine. So we'll -- we'll get that one for you, as well. I think the General's already asked the team for that but we'll get that number for you, too, and hopefully in the not too distant future. OK?

Q: Does OPM consider Starbucks an essential place.

(Laughter.)