Transcript

Defense Department Press Briefing

March 10, 2020
Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan R. Hoffman; Navy Rear Admiral William D. Byrne Jr., Vice Director, Joint Staff; And Air Force Brigadier General Paul A. Friedrichs, Joint Staff Surgeon

JONATHAN HOFFMAN: All right, good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for being here today. I want to start -- six feet -- I want to start by extending the Department's condolences to Gunnery Sergeant Diego Pongo and Captain Moises Navas and their families, who were killed in Iraq supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. We are privileged by these Marines’ service and ultimate sacrifice to the country.

I want to start the -- go -- move into an update on COVID-19 preparedness. As we've discussed previously, the Secretary of Defense has three priorities when dealing with COVID-19 -- the protection of our service members, their families and DOD civilians; safeguarding our critical national security missions and capabilities; and supporting the interagency whole of government approach to confronting coronavirus.

As Secretary Esper has stated, U.S. combatant commanders and services have the authority to act in the best interests of their commands, in coordination with the commanders of units on the ground. 

The Pentagon has issued precautionary travel restrictions for military personnel movements in high risk areas and restricted non-essential travel and non-official travel to areas of concern. The commanders have also been examining currently scheduled exercises and have canceled or delayed exercises around the globe as necessary to ensure the welfare of our forces, our partners, and our families. 

At the Pentagon, we've adopted a number of measures to address the potential spread of the virus within one of the largest office buildings in the world. We will continue practicing social distancing for DOD meetings and briefings, educating the workforce, and reinforcing good hygiene by providing resources within the Pentagon. In addition -- in addition, we are evaluating procedures for entry of visitors into the -- into the building itself.

Outside the Pentagon, DOD continues to support the whole of government approach. This includes individuals -- this includes support to individuals from the Grand Princess, who have been -- or are being transported to DOD facilities. 

While DOD will provide housing for persons who have been evacuated from the Grand Princess, HHS is responsible for providing all cleaning, security, and logistics for quarantined persons on DOD installations. At these locations, we've taken -- we've taken all necessary precautions to ensure our forces, families, and dependents will not interact with quarantined persons and any person who is suspected of having coronavirus will be treated in an off-base medical facility.

With that, we will take your questions. Bob?

Q: A question on Afghanistan ... 

MR. HOFFMAN: You're very close, it seems.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: On Afghanistan, I'm wondering is it Secretary -- what is Secretary Esper's view on whether the Taliban are abiding by the terms of the February 29th agreement, in light of the attacks that have taken place since then?

MR. HOFFMAN: So the -- the Secretary's talked about this previously and I think he is -- he's made it a -- clear that we -- we see that the agreement -- it -- that in place is -- is the agreement that -- to get to a possible end state of peace in Afghanistan and this is just one step.

He's stated multiple times that the -- the path is going to be a -- a bumpy, windy path to get there, that while the levels are not as -- as low as some would like them to be, we've seen progress and that we hope that that continues to hold. We hope it -- that it will be enough to get the inter-Afghan process moving forward and get to a place where they have an Afghan agreement that actually brings peace to the Afghan people.

Q: So he wouldn't say they're violating the agreement -- the Taliban?

MR. HOFFMAN: I think that there's -- need to differentiate between attacks that are happening in Afghanistan that are the result of -- of maybe Taliban action and -- by other actors because we've seen a number of attacks over the recent days that have been by actors who are not -- not the Taliban.

ISIS is still in Afghanistan, is still active, and so a number of attacks we've seen are -- are -- are the result of their actions. Would he like to see the -- the number of attacks -- Taliban actions go to zero? The agreement is -- is a reduction in violence and we've seen a reduction in violence and that is, for the most part -- although there have been some ups and downs, has -- has somewhat been holding, and -- and we've seen progress and we've seen some possibility of that inter-Afghan dialogue beginning shortly and we -- we have confidence and we -- we hope that it does.

Q: (Inaudible).

MR. HOFFMAN: Jennifer?

Q: So two questions. Who is the President of Afghanistan right now? And why would you begin withdrawing if the terms of the agreement really are not being met yet?

MR. HOFFMAN: So on -- on the -- the terms of the agreement, the agreement is a multi-step, conditions-based -- one of the conditions on our side was to begin the withdrawal of troops as part of that. I don't know exactly what -- what measures you mean are not being met. 

I think we would -- we'd contend that the reduction in violence that we have seen and that has -- for the most part has been holding, although there have been some attacks, indicate that that -- that agreement is in -- is in place right now and has a possibility of being successful.

So one of our commitments was to begin that reduction. At the same time, I'll say General McKenzie and General Miller have made this clear in the past that we believe that we could operate with a lower number of forces in the region -- I think 8,600 was the number that General Miller had identified all the way back to October or September of last year that we could go to.

And so we see value in going to that and showing our good faith effort to abide by that agreement and that that will hopefully incentivize the other members of -- of the agreement to act and operate and then that will lead to agreement with the -- with an inter-Afghan conversation.

Do you have anything else you want to add?

REAR ADMIRAL WILLIAM D. BYRNE JR: No, the -- the only other thing I would add is that this is a continual evaluative process and General Miller and his subordinate commanders are going to continue to do that evaluation and -- and there shouldn't be any inference that we're going to get to 135 days and go from about 12,000 to 8,600, so that draw down will be continual, as well.

Q: And back to the President of Afghanistan?

MR. HOFFMAN: So I think the American delegation that was in the area, we have recognized the -- the Afghan election commission results and I believe an American delegation attended the inauguration of President Ghani in the region.

So, Idrees?

Q: I have two questions. Firstly, Secretary Esper announced -- or it was announced that he would not be traveling to Central Asia next week. Is there -- because there's -- focusing on the coronavirus. Is there a blanket ban on senior DOD officials from -- traveling for work or is it case-by-case now?

MR. HOFFMAN: There's no blanket ban and the Secretary's decision with regard to his travel -- his planned -- previously planned travel had a couple of reasons. One is -- is whether we -- we have a number of people that travel -- there's a number of you that -- that travel with us, as well, concern of if someone was to come down with symptoms on the trip, what would that result in? We could end up with -- with someone on staff or -- or a member of press that -- that ended up having to be quarantined in a -- in a foreign country for a period of time.

There is the possibility of -- of some of these countries -- they are looking to reduce international travel, as well, and so looking at some of the meetings that we were planning on doing, that -- would those be impacted? And then there's also the desire of the Secretary to be in the U.S. right now working on our response to the coronavirus, not just with our own workforce but the effort we have with the whole of government support in finding a way that we can help HHS, help CDC, and help the rest of the -- the federal government.

And I'll -- I'll turn it over to General Friedrichs. I don't know if you have anything else on ...

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAUL A. FRIEDRICHS:  No, sir, I'd echo that's absolutely no ban. It is a case-by-case and I think the important point on that is how frequently each -- various countries are adjusting their travel restrictions. This is going to remain dynamic as the outbreak spreads, and so part of the calculus is what are the travel restrictions in other countries, what is the risk in other countries. 

ADM. BYRNE: So we're -- so we're making those -- assuming that the senior commanders are making the right decision. So in the case of the chairman, we're taking a daily look and we're looking at a day out, a week out and a month out, and we're doing that on a -- on a rolling basis.

So some decisions are very easy because the event just gets canceled based on the hosts, and we're looking at the health of our senior leaders, we're looking at the health of the audiences with whom they're going to interact, and making those decisions on a daily basis.

Q: And just to follow up, the individual at Fort Belvoir who's believed to have the virus, obviously worked at DSCA, Crystal City. Do you know if the DSCA office at Crystal City, people are working from home? Any steps that have been taken to...

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah, so thank you. And yes, the appropriate steps were taken. People with immediate contact are working from home. Those who were not in direct contact were not considered to be exposed to him or continuing to work. The workspace was appropriately cleaned. And most important, I think the best news is that he is doing well. 

Q: Thank you very much, yeah. So how do you make up the security (inaudible) in South Korea with the COVID-19 and the suspended joint military exercises? 

MR. HOFFMAN: So I think our assessment at this point would be that we have not yet seen any dramatic reduction in readiness or ability of our forces based on COVID-19. In some places, particularly Korea, where -- where the commander on the ground there, General Abrams, has been at the forefront of DOD's response in containing the COVID-19, and taken measures that have been highly, highly aggressive and effective in confronting it and helping secure his personnel from -- from exposure. 

And as a result, that force and the Korean military are stepped back from some exercises and some efforts, but the hope is that as the diseases passes or the virus passes and -- and we move into warmer weather, that we'll be able to resume some of those efforts. 

And I'll turn it over to Admiral...

ADM. BYRNE: And so those are the large force exercises that are -- that have either been canceled or deferred up to this point. But as far as maintaining readiness on a daily basis, it is a combined force out there. So at the staff-to-staff level, squadron-to-squadron level and small unit-to-small unit, training continues. So we're maximizing every opportunity to maintain our readiness. 

Q: Are there any disruptions to the U.S. military deployment? Any disruptions, regular military deployment to the South Korea?

ADM. BYRNE: To South Korea? So we are -- we're reviewing that daily as well, as far as troops moving in and troops moving out. So we're -- we're coming to an agreement across the department as far as personnel movements, especially because the summer move period is coming up soon. So -- so we haven't decided on the department-wide policy yet. 

MR. HOFFMAN: And I would add to that. On the PCS movements, is that's a conversation that's taking place. I think many of you saw, the Army went out on Friday with some direction on PCS movements to Korea and Italy. The other departments are looking at that as well, having a conversation in the department as to how best to -- to choreograph that over the next few days. 

The goal is, one, we've got to look at our personnel going into an area that -- that may have a number of cases, or coming from an area that may have a number of cases. And then also the fact that the movement alone itself can put people at risk, and so we want to -- we want to limit all of those.

But I know the general's been a part of a lot of those conversations, as to how best to do that. We've got a number of options that we can work through. And it's all risk-based. So as the situation gets -- gets worse or gets better, we can adjust that. But we do want to do it in a way that protects our personnel, but also helps us ensure that we can continue with the -- with the mission. 

Q: Thank you. I have two questions actually. I wanted to know if the -- the coronavirus has affected the Defender-20 exercise, or will affect this exercise in Europe because Europe is becoming a very affected area. 

And I have also a question about what General McKenzie said this morning. He said that the Taliban fought against ISIS in Afghanistan with the assistance of the U.S. military. I would like to -- you to explain if -- what kind of assistance, and if it was exceptional or if it's still going on. 

ADM. BYRNE: So Defender-20, first of all, is -- we're continuing with planning efforts to -- to continue that exercise. Multinational exercise, so a lot of folks get a vote as far as participation is concerned. But as far as we're concerned now, that exercise is going to continue and that force flow and those -- moving those people will -- will continue. 

As far as Taliban operations against ISIS and U.S. support, I don't have any specifics to provide you. But that's the hope, that's the hope in that every force there is countering ISIS. Every force there is countering al-Qaida because the hope is that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist operations. 

Q: But he did mention very limited assistance from U.S. So can you tell us what it was?

ADM. BYRNE: I cannot. I'll have to refer you back to CENTCOM. 

MR. HOFFMAN: Barbara?

Q: I had a couple questions for the admiral, but I would like to follow up on Sylvie if I might, sir. When -- if I could just ask the admiral?

MR. HOFFMAN: He's right there. 

Q: You mentioned, let me go -- a couple of things. You mentioned you're assessing the health of senior leaders. Can you tell me what you mean by that? Are you -- are they getting tested, are you talking about where they've been? What did you mean by that? Then I have a follow-up. 

ADM. BYRNE: So we have force-wide health protection measures, and we all, as we walk in the building, we get our little flyers, say do this, don't do that, keep the six-feet distance, wash your hands regularly. And our senior leaders are following those same precautions. 

We follow the buddy rule in that we look each other in the eye when we walk in in the morning, so we're looking at one another as well. And -- and we're -- the general wellness and general health of each other, of ourselves as individuals, we're doing a self-evaluation, if you will. 

So -- so far, so good...

Q: I have no idea what that means. 

MR. HOFFMAN: Barbara, we've got the surgeon up here, he can...

(CROSSTALK)

ADM. BYRNE: Well, the same way -- the same way that you...

Q: ... question about (inaudible).

ADM. BYRNE: ... and I do a self-evaluation when we get up in the morning, if we're feeling good, we take -- if we feel like we have to, we take our temperature and we come into work. 

Q: Can I ask you a question about Iraq, then? This battle in which two Marines lost their lives is being described as extremely intense. You had two killed, four wounded. That adds up to about half the U.S. team, out of commission. And you had to send in a quick reaction force of the most extreme kind.

So I'm wondering what this says about the strength of ISIS, this pocket. How is it that they can still essentially take out half a U.S. team on a mission?

ADM. BYRNE: So we know that ISIS is still a threat in the region. In this particular operation, it was a partnered operation and it was in extremely rugged terrain, it was in vertical terrain, and so that made it -- that, in and of itself, made it extremely difficult.

It was a high treat environment, we knew that going in and we took the appropriate precautions into a high threat environment and tragically it was an unfortunate outcome. So we're looking into the assessment now and we'll -- we'll conduct a review to gather any lessons learned so the next time we have a -- a similar situation -- I don't want to get out in front of that review but that's ... 

(CROSSTALK)

Q: ... feel there were -- there were enough troops, enough air cover? I mean, rough terrain after 18 years is not new to the U.S. military.

ADM. BYRNE: Yeah, I'm -- I'm going to do no second guessing on the commanders on the ground and the commanders who planned and executed that mission.

MR. HOFFMAN: OK. And General, if you want to General (inaudible).

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Thanks, yes, so the checks that we're doing are pretty common sense and these are the ones that you've heard repeated over and over again. If anyone looks like they're sick, I personally, if I'm in a meeting, I'm encouraging them to go home. 

And so as many of you know, as the Joint Staff surgeon sitting down with senior leaders all day long, part of what I do is quite candidly is looking at who's in the room and how they're doing and checking on them. So this is not -- you know, this is not anything unusual, this is what I do as a doctor all the time, it's what I encourage you to do in your workplaces, as well.

How -- the way we will stop the spread of this or slow the spread of this is those sorts of common sense checks.

MR. HOFFMAN: Luis?

Q: A follow up on a question about exercises. U.S. Africa Command has just announced that they're reducing the size and the scope of African Lion, partly because they don't want troops that may have been quartered there to be in close contact.

I mean, how different is that from Defender Europe, where you have troops that will be moving from country to country and moving positions? I mean, who is making -- is that a COCOM Commander call or is this coming up from higher up in ... 

MR. HOFFMAN: So -- so it's -- it's a multitude of things and -- and I would -- I would point that the -- the goal here is looking at what the commander -- the combatant commander, looking at what the service supporting of those exercises, as well as what the host countries are doing.

So I wouldn't look and -- and compare those two at a point in time right now. The -- the decisions about Defender '20 are being examined. Every day, we're looking at whether the situation and where those forces are going and who's contributing to it and whether that will continue.

And as the -- the Admiral mentioned, our -- our allies and partners that are participating get a vote, as well. So with a -- with African Lion, it was a decision that was made by the combatant commander that -- in conjunction with the host countries -- I believe it's Morocco and Tunisia -- that we were going to reduce our -- our effort.

And part of it is, you know, we've got to look at how are people getting there? Are they traveling en masse, are they traveling commercially, where are they transiting through, where are they going to go afterward, are they -- how long are they there for, is the value of a shorter exercise worth it if, on the back end, they may have a 14 day quarantine versus a long exercise where it may -- the value may came out?

So a lot of that's happening but it -- it's generally the -- the combatant commander and the service supporting the Secretary are -- are making those determinations.

Q: I have another COCOM question. 

MR. HOFFMAN: Sure.

Q: U.S. Northern Command is the global coordinator for dealing with COVID. New York just announced that they're building a containment zone up in New Rochelle and that New York National Guard are going to be providing assistance and facilitating this.

Does NORTHCOM have plans in the works for active duty troops to fall in in some capacity to help assist local governments if this -- if this spread continues of this disease?

MR. HOFFMAN: So a couple of things. The NORTHCOM does have that role of the global integrator for the -- the assistance -- or defense assistance to civilian authorities. So examples of what's happening at Travis and Lackland and -- and the bases where we're -- we're quarantining individuals off the Grand Princess.

They also help coordinate our -- our efforts with -- with regard to the National Guard but so does the National Guard Bureau. And so what I think you're referring there would be -- and I'm not familiar with the New York plan of what they're doing but it sounds as if that would be a -- a -- a National Guard unit in a National Guard -- in a state status reporting to the Governor of -- doing that.

What that role would be is not through the command of -- of DOD at that point, it's with regard to the Governor. We have plans for everything and we have plans for -- for how we can support and what that would look like. 

We have certain requests for assistance that may come through. So right now we're getting requests from assistance from other federal agencies but we'll look at things as they come up and the goal is -- is that this will be a whole of government solution and that -- whether it's the -- the city government, whether it's the state government -- are going to have to come up with -- with their plans and -- and efforts to do it.

The Department of Defense can bring a capability in certain areas -- logistics, we're really good at it, planning, we're really good at it -- but I'm sure the -- the -- the General will tell you we do have some medical supplies or -- and some medical capabilities but the civilian sector medical capabilities far dwarfs what DOD can bring to bear.

And so these local communities and these states are going to look internally first and see what they can do but the Department of Defense is -- is going to be at the direction of the President, Vice President, be prepared to provide assistance as is appropriate.

Q: Dr. Friedrichs, please, do you have any updates on -- on numbers, suspected cases, confirmed cases within the military, among service members, and dependents worldwide? Do you have any numbers?

And can you tell us about tests? How much testing are you doing within the military?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Thank you. And yes, so if you remember on Thursday, I -- I think at that point I told you I had one confirmed active duty. So we now have three confirmed active duty. There's the active duty member in Korea, the one that was mentioned previously here in the United States, and then there's one in Europe also who had been diagnosed with coronavirus.

In addition, we have one civil servant who's been diagnosed with coronavirus, four dependents and one contractor, all at various locations. All are doing well at this point based on the clinical updates that we've received from the -- or from the locations where they're being treated.

We have six people who are currently being evaluated -- and I'm going to use that term because there's a bunch of very specific terms -- but there's six people currently being evaluated that we're tracking and we'll wait to see what their test results are when they come back.

As far as how many tests we've conducted, last report that I saw yesterday was 143 within DOD labs. That does not include tests that were done in other labs on DOD personnel, so I can't -- we don't have any way of tracking if a lab for a DOD person is sent out to another lab.

We have 13 labs that are up and running within DOD that are performing these tests right now and they've got ample supplies. I'm getting a daily update on where they are with that and all of them report that they have what they need.

Sir, did that answer your question?

Q: Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you. Is the Pentagon tracking the two cases at Joint Base Lewis-McChord at -- where the spouse tested positive before the service member did, the service member felt ill and now they're quarantined?

And what sorts of policies are going to be in place? You know, the -- the spouses can be exposed in other ways, service -- what sort of protections are you all considering?

MR. HOFFMAN: So can you clarify what you mean by the spouse is going to be exposed in other ways, or put in place? 

Q: Well, spouses interacting in the community. So in this case, spouse had not been on base, had been interacting in the community and the service member fell ill. 

MR. HOFFMAN: Yeah. So I think this gets back to that -- that whole-of-government, whole-of-America approach to how -- how we're going to confront this. So this is part of the -- the trying to impart the social distancing, impart the hygiene that not just DOD's trying to do, but the -- the vice president and the president's task force are trying to push out, and CDC is pushing as well. 

So you're seeing those efforts to get out there. I think the other thing is that part of -- the general mentioned, I'll give him a second just to give you an update as well -- that notifying, and as soon as people are feeling ill, to get attention, to go seek treatment. And then take those steps to quarantine. 

And so what we're doing is, as soon as we become aware of something, is taking those steps to quarantine, to do the contact tracing and see if they have been on a base, if they have been traveling, what other people they've been in contact with. So we're taking those steps we can, within the DOD community. 

But we're very well aware that this is larger than DOD, and so we're going to work with our local health officials, our state health officials, work with our other federal partners as we try to come to a way to best confront the virus, and so. 

General? 

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Thanks, sir. 

And thank you, ma'am. So I would reiterate a couple of points on that. So the Department of Defense has had plans for dealing with infectious disease outbreaks like this for years. Every base has their own plan and exercises them. So each base has a plan for how they're going to handle that. It's coordinated with their local authorities, going forward.

I can't overstate the importance of the local authorities. If we go back to any successful response, it starts with a strong local public health authority and good plans that re not unique to one employer like the DOD, but to the whole community. 

Even more important than that, though, is the individual responsibility. And I'll foot stomp that because each individual -- and we've clearly expressed that to our staff -- each individual has the responsibility to say, I'm feeling sick, therefore I'm not going to come into work. I think I've been exposed to someone who traveled to China or to Italy or to a high-risk area, therefore I'm going to come in and be evaluated. And if they're considered to be at risk, then their families should also quarantine. That is the right way to do it. 

So it's a shared responsibility between us as the employer in a community, the community's public health system and especially with the individuals involved. Does that answer your question, ma'am? 

Q: Partially. But just to follow up, in a response to another reporter's question, you said that there are three DOD cases. Did that not include the service member at Joint Base Lewis-McChord? And with the dependents, did that -- did that not include the spouse?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So the three active duty that I'm tracking, which is the report that I got as of about 3 o'clock this morning, did not include anyone from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. So at -- I would caution everybody, these numbers are going to change. For those of you who were here yesterday, you heard different numbers. If we look at this again in two hours, it'll probably be a different number. 

So no, these did not include those cases. As a reminder, when we step forward, if an individual is diagnosed or if there's a concern about an individual, the first step is doing the test, have to wait for those results to come back. If the first test is positive, they're called a presumptive positive and then the second test is sent for confirmation. 

And so we're trying to be very careful in reporting those for whom we have received two confirmatory -- received the initial and the confirmatory test, and we update our numbers here once a day. 

MR. HOFFMAN: And that's -- that's my fault, I should have noted that. The report on the numbers was out of -- we get that number about either 3 a.m. or 5 a.m. every morning. And that's the number we go off for the day. 

We'll work to incorporate updates like this one into it, but we're trying to look at a snapshot in time so that we're not -- we're not in a position of having to chase numbers throughout the day. 

Jeff?

Q: Thank you. 

A question for the admiral. I'm following up on my colleague's question about General McKenzie's comments that the U.S. provided limited support to the Taliban fighting ISIS. Has the -- the United States traditionally or ever provided the Taliban with any assistance, not just in this situation, but in -- any time you can recall, has the United States provided the Taliban with assistance? 

ADM. BYRNE: Jeff, I don't have those specifics. I'm going to have to get that back to you through CENTCOM. 

Q: OK. And Mr. Hoffman, do you know of any plans to make the implementing agreements that are part of the peace deal public, so that everyone can see what -- how exactly this is going to work?

MR. HOFFMAN: So I think the secretary's commitment has been, and as he has stated to Congress and then we've put forward, is that the -- all of the documents, the implementing agreements, all of the arrangements, whatever people want to call them, have been provided to Congress. 

And so the expectation is that the American representatives who have access to those, those documents, will be able to review them and provide information to their constituents and to the public about it. 

There are legitimate reasons why things that we do in this building and things that we do internationally, that we have some constraints on information we don't want to have out in the -- the full public domain. That would include operationally sensitive information regarding troop movements, that might be information that may be of -- of interest to ISIS and al-Qaida and other entities that are operating in Afghanistan. And so we have a desire to protect that information. 

Q: If I could have a very quick follow-up ...

MR. HOFFMAN: Sure. 

Q: ... The New York Times pointed out, the Taliban have read these annexes; most of the American people have not. Does that make sense?

MR. HOFFMAN: Yes, it does. It's an agreement with the Taliban, it makes sense for them to read the documents. So the agreement with them is -- provides information on our -- our process and how we will be implementing these. For example, with -- with our movement of forces, it's necessary to deconflict that with -- with the Taliban. So there's information that is necessary to -- to be provided, and it's perfectly normal to do that in a diplomatic negotiation. 

General -- Admiral, do you have anything else ...

ADM. BYRNE: Yeah, deconfliction. 

MR. HOFFMAN: Deconflict with them. 

Lara ?

Q: Is the U.S. military putting resources into developing tools to mitigate or combat the virus? For example there was a Reuters report, I think, the other day, saying that the administration may use special powers to ramp up production of protective gear like masks and these kind of things. Can you speak to what if anything is happening on that front? 

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yes. So, thank you. So the United States military has a longstanding research focus on infectious diseases by virtue of what we do. As many of you have heard of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, we have other research labs around the Department of Defense that have worked for years, for decades on finding cures for a variety of infectious diseases including viruses. 

So we are involved in interagency effort to develop vaccines, our labs are involved. As well as interagency efforts to develop medical countermeasures, and interagency efforts to develop additional testing tools. 

Those testing tools are particularly of interest to us because what we'd like to do is get to the point that we have testing capability that we can get out to a ship or to a remote or austere area. That -- you know, that is the sort of capability that we try to push forward, to maximize our ability to protect the force. 

That one is probably going to be the earliest to deliver, depending on how that research effort goes. As Dr. Fauci pointed out yesterday, and as many of us have commented on, the vaccine development is likely going to be the longest. That typically takes months and sometimes years, to develop a safe and effective vaccine. 

The medical countermeasures -- right now, we're trying a variety of medications and testing them in different scenarios so we hope that we will have some medical countermeasures sooner than the vaccines may be available and we're involved in work in all of those areas.

Q: And then just -- just to follow up quickly, specifically on -- on the masks and gloves and that kind of thing, can you say anything about that? And then also how much money is being invested in -- in these efforts?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So I don't have the answer to how much money -- OK.

MR. HOFFMAN: So on the first one, on the -- on the masks and the -- I think you're referring to the defense authorities for productions -- Defense Production Act, we've not used that authority at this point but at the -- at the White House level, they've been having conversations with the manufacturers of those and have taken the steps to increase the manufacturing.

So they've looked at whether they -- they need to use those authorities. I have not gotten an update on whether they've determined that that is necessary but that's a conversation that's taking place. Although it has the "defense" word in it, it's taking place outside of the building, as well.

With regard to -- to dollars, as you know the President signed a -- a supplemental yesterday, I think it was $8.5 billion, for a government-wide approach to countering the coronavirus. That was money that's going to HHS. Most of the work that we do particularly on that -- that support for civilian authorities is on a reimbursable basis. 

So the things that we've done at Travis, Lackland, Dobbins, Miramar, we will be seeking reimbursement from HHS that will likely come out of that pot of money. Other things that we're doing internally -- we've identified some funding internally that -- that we are using and then our -- our -- I have been in a number of meetings with the Comptroller and the -- the -- our financial people and they're continuing to ask what -- what resources do you need?

So we're working on -- on numbers that we can provide to Congress if -- if the cost is becoming significant enough that we don't believe we can pay for that out of existing sources.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: To -- to -- to clarify, is there anything else that the Defense Production Act authorities would apply to, aside from masks?

MR. HOFFMAN: I don't have an update for you on that. I imagine it applies to a number of different things but I don't -- I don't have a -- a specific update on that. 

And then, Jeff, I just want to go back to your question real quick. The -- the one thing I would point out -- the Secretary was asked this -- kind of a similar question last week in his hearing by a member and the premise of that question was -- was on I think looking back historically at similar type of agreements with -- with foreign governments, where some part of the agreement was not even known to Congress, much less Congress wasn't even allowed to see that document. 

And we've taken the steps with this agreement that Congress is aware of all of the -- the agreements that are part of it and Congress has had the -- the ability to -- to view all of those, as well. So I just wanted to clarify that up a little bit.

Q: Thank you, John. So I have two questions, one on corona and one on Turkey. On -- on the corona thing -- virus, can you explain to us how -- how different is the -- the impact of this virus on DOD and the military than the regular season flu? Because, I mean, considering all of the measures you're taking, including this room, it seems you take this more seriously than the flu, although the President himself thinks that the seasonal flu is more dangerous and he actually tweeted about that.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So the President is right. I know you're shocked that I said that but the President is right. There are more people ill with the seasonal flu than there are ill with coronavirus, worldwide and in the United States and in the military.

The reason that we're taking the precautions that you're seeing is this is a new virus and we are continuing to learn about this virus, about how easy it is to spread the virus, and in particular an environment like this in close spaces, we're trying to figure out the best way to mitigate the risk until we have solid data on that.

You know the military is good on planning, we're also good on trying to decrease risks. So we'd rather mitigate that risk up front than wait and find out that we should have done it because multiple people got sick along the way.

Q: Thank you. And on Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said today that the U.S. seems to be softening its stance on the S-400 and the Patriot missiles, that if -- if Turkey promises not to activate the S-400, you're going to reconsider selling the Patriot missiles to -- to Ankara.

Can you comment on that, please?

MR. HOFFMAN: The -- the Secretary's view on this has been clear for the last -- basically since the first day he began as Secretary of Defense and that -- is that Turkey is -- is not going to receive a Patriot battery unless it returns the S-400.

Last question, Phil?

Q: Just a -- a -- a quick clarification and then a question. So there -- how many presumptive positives are there for coronavirus? I didn't understand. It was six presumptives. And could that include the Lewis-McChord case?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: It -- it could. I don't -- I don't have the breakdown on this right now.

Q: And then -- and then my -- my (inaudible) question was, you know, on the -- on the coronavirus more broadly. Do you think that the numbers you have are an accurate reflection of the degree of infections in the military or is it your assessment that the number's actually probably significantly higher than that, but that the people are not exhibiting symptoms or not necessarily sick in a way that justified testing?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So you've hit on one of the challenges with this outbreak and why we are being more conservative in implementing some of these social distancing measures. We don't know. We are still learning how easy it is to spread this, how many people could be able to spread the -- the virus before they actually have symptoms of the infection.

There are things about any new outbreak that just take time for us to learn. And so is it possible that there are more people infected than what these numbers represent? Yes, absolutely.

Q: (Inaudible) that it is likely that -- that they do have more or that it's possible?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah, no, I -- I -- I think that it is likely, given what we're seeing around the world and the fact that we have people all over the world, that there are more than nine people affiliated with the Department of Defense, whether it's 10 or 21, I -- that would -- I would be guessing at this point.

But yes, I think that it is likely that the number is higher. The good news is, as I've shared before and as, you know, we've reported, is the impact on younger people and healthy people is often a mild cold. You know, a flu-like illness.

And so that's one of the challenges and that's why I think it's likely higher. You know, this is the flu season. Some people have the flu, they say "oh, it's the regular flu." It could've also been coronavirus and they got better and they went about their -- their business.

Until -- until we have more data on this, it'll be difficult to specifically answer your question but I think we're getting much better data over time and one of the things that I'd highlight here is the difference in how our country's approaching this outbreak. I've been out here regularly sharing with you the most specific data that we have. That's the model that every country should emulate. 

The way that you control a public health outbreak is not to hide data, it's to be transparent to the public and to your partners going forward so that we have a clear understanding of the risk and then we can take the appropriate measures to mitigate it.

MR. HOFFMAN: With that, guys, thank you for -- for coming today and once again, as the doctor said, please do look after each other and we do ask if anybody does get sick, you guys can telecommute or work from the bureau. Thank you guys.