Transcript

Department of Defense Press Briefing on COVID-19 Response

March 16, 2020
Jonathan Rath Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs; Joint Staff Surgeon Air Force Brigadier General Paul Friedrichs

ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JONATHAN RATH HOFFMAN:  Hey, good afternoon everybody, appreciate everybody who's here in the briefing room today, and then I understand we have about a dozen reporters who are on the phone line, so we will give our first crack at a televised press conference.  So thanks for being here.

As the situation continues to evolve around the COVID-19 outbreak, we wanted to get you information about the changes happening in the department impacting our service members.  I'll give a few updates and then Dr. Friedrichs and myself will take some of your questions.

First, I want to start with the latest DoD coronavirus numbers.  As of 0500 today, there have been 37 reported cases, 18 military, 13 dependents, three civilian, and three contractors. We are continuing to monitor the situation and we'll provide updates each day as we receive them.

As you know, on Friday the Deputy Secretary Norquist released additional guidance on domestic travel for service members and DoD personnel.  Effective today through May 11, all domestic travel for military personnel will be halted unless it meets one of a number of waiver criteria including mission-essential travel or humanitarian reasons.  This will also restrict DoD civilian hiring on DoD installations to persons who live within the immediate commuting area of the facility.

The Secretary continues to state his top priority during the outbreak is to protect service members and their families and to maintain our ability to complete our central mission, and we're going to take -- continue to take all of those efforts.

I wanted to give a couple of additional updates.  Today, the department has given authority to the local commissary store directors to impose restrictions on purchasing high-demand products.  This will be done in coordination with base leadership.  The department is working to make sure that service members and their families living on base understand these changes and have access to the goods that they need.

Finally, I want to give you guys some updates on what we're doing here in the building. Starting today, the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary are remaining physically separated, so we are attempting to put a -- for lack of a better term, a -- a bubble around the two of them.  That means that they and their staffs will only interact via teleconference.  We're screening people that are entering the Secretary's suite and limiting the number of people who have access, as well.

Earlier today, the CMO team -- I think some of you may have been on that -- hosted a tele-town hall for residents of the Pentagon Reservation to address protective measures that we've put in place.  They got a bunch of really good questions from people on the Reservation, which includes this building, as well as, I believe, 78 other buildings in the National Capital region, talking about force protection, health protection measures.  We're going to do -- continue to do events like that here and around the country to keep our people informed.

At this time, I want to just thank a number of people who have been working on this problem for -- for many weeks now.  So I believe we've had teams at a number of different bases working on coronavirus issues, providing HHS -- support to HHS.

At Dobbins, Miramar, Lackland and Travis, those teams have done an outstanding job in what has been a very demanding situation and they've continued to do -- to do a great job and everyone here at the Department appreciates that.

And then last, I want to the custodial staff at the Pentagon.  They've been asked over the last few weeks to really step up what they've done to -- to help limit the spread of any infectious disease here.  And so I think as you guys have seen, they're increasing their rounds and increasing the type of work they're doing and that is to everybody's benefit here and we appreciate that.

So with that, I'll see if -- General do you have anything?

JOINT STAFF SURGEON BRIGADIER GENERAL PAUL FRIEDRICHS:  No, I would say let's go straight to questions, sir.

HOFFMAN:  All right.  Bob?

Q:  Jonathan, aside from what the National Guard is doing in -- in many states, is the -- is the Defense Department considering making available to civilian agencies medical facilities, medical equipment, medical personnel?  Is that being -- is that under consideration?

HOFFMAN:  So I -- I think you guys are all familiar with how the request for assistance coming into the Department.  And so, so far, we've received requests for assistance from HHS specific to the quarantining and housing of individuals who are either evacuated from Wuhan, Hubei Province or the Grand Princess and the Diamond Princess, and then additionally, for the 11 feeder airports for individuals who flew back into the U.S. who needed to be quarantined.

So that's the -- that's the one set of RFAs that we have fulfilled with regard to coronavirus.  We've not received any other ones at this time that we have responded to and are -- and are doing.  We are looking at a number of different options with regard to resources and what we can do.

I would point out that the -- the big benefit of the Department of Defense is logistics and planning support. Those are two things that we can -- we -- we are able to provide a lot of assistance to.  There are other things where we'll take a look at it as they come in, but at this time those are the only RFAs that we've seen so far.

Q:  OK, so aside from the request itself that you've made clear you haven't had any of this -- of this type, but you're considering what you might do or might be able to do in the area of medical assistance?

HOFFMAN:  So we've done a look at our abilities and our resources and what we can do and where we think that we have capability to assist the civilian sector in this whole-of-government approach, while still ensuring that we have the resources that are necessary to A, take care of our personnel and their families, and B, to focus on our mission -- our essential missions, our strategic missions.

And so we've -- we've done that analysis and are continuing to do it and we'll be providing that -- the Secretary has it and can provide it up to the President, the White House for help in making decisions as requests come in.

FRIEDRICHS:  And if I can -- I could just add to that.  So as you well know during hurricane season or other times, we have plans on the shelf, defense support -- called defense support to civil authorities.  And so have we looked at it?  Absolutely. I mean, we do that every year routinely preparing for a variety of natural disasters.

So yes, we do have plans, looking at the capabilities that we have, and then if we're asked to provide them or we're tasked to say what's in the realm of possible, we can go back and look at those plans.

Q:  But, so, this would be a different plan than under a natural disaster probably ...

FRIEDRICHS:  It -- it is, but again, from the -- in the Department's perspective, you know, what we do is we look at what capabilities we have and how they might best meet the requests that we get, and that's why I think this is really important that, you know, if we're asked to do something we look at what we have available and how best to support them.

HOFFMAN:  Yeah. Sorry, it's a little bit disconcerting, this is the closest I've been standing next to somebody in about a week, so it's throwing me off, so.

(LAUGHTER)

Q:  If I could follow up, how much slack is there in sort of the military health system that you can actually provide to the civilian authorities?  You know, is -- there's obviously not doctors just lying around who are waiting to go to work, they would presumably come from civilian hospitals.  You know, how many respirators do you have sort of lying around?  I mean, how much can you actually support if you're asked?

FRIEDRICHS:  Yeah, so the -- so those are great questions.  And -- and those are the sorts of analyses that we're going through right now to identify what we can do.  And -- and I want to emphasize the point that people have come up and said, you know, what about this idea, what about that idea?

We're trying to step through each of those questions that we receive and then say here's what's within the realm of possible.  If we do this, then here's the consequence.  A great one that's come up is why don't we mobilize the Guard and the Reserve?  I think that's what you're talking about right now.

The challenge with that, as you alluded to, is if you mobilize the Guard and Reserve medical personnel from their civilian jobs, they're no longer in their civilian jobs and that directly impacts the community where they work.

And that's the tradeoff that -- you know, whether it's a natural disaster or the coronavirus or anything else, that's part of the tradeoff that we look at as we offer options going forward.

HOFFMAN:  OK.  David?

Q:  General, give us some idea of the capacity that is out there within the Department of Defense.  How many hospital beds, how many doctors, if it comes to that?

FRIEDRICHS:  So we have 36 hospitals in the United States.  And, you know, from the standpoint of a domestic response, 36 hospitals within the United States, as many of you are aware, they are relatively small hospitals, they're not thousand-bed hospitals.  So they range in size.

Many of them are configured to support, as you might imagine, our immediate military needs.  So they take care of the active duty population and families and some retirees.  We have some large facilities, like here in the DC area, up at Walter Reed that have more diverse services and we have a number of smaller facilities in more remote locations -- like Fort Wainwright in Alaska has a small hospital that offers obstetrical services and basic community hospital-type services.

So it -- unfortunately, the answer is it depends on the community and what the need -- the requirement was to support the operational force in that community that has determined the size of the hospitals in -- that we have.

(CROSS-TALK)

Q: ... has publicly asked for the Corps of Engineers to start constructing facilities.  What could the Corps of Engineers realistically do?

FRIEDRICHS:  I -- as a doc, I'm not going to be able to answer that question for the Corps of Engineers.  I'd have to ...

HOFFMAN:  Yeah, I mean, I -- well one thing I'd just -- to the first question I'd point out is some of those hospitals that we do have, as the doctor kind of alluded to, is the way they're configured, a lot of neonatal, pediatric care beds in those hospitals, out of that group of beds, our doctors are unsurprisingly trained highly in traumatic injuries and dealing with traumatic injuries.

And so we have a much younger population that we're dealing with treating in our hospitals.  And so all of these kind of factor in to what is that capability we have for a potential outbreak that generally has been more devastating to elder -- older persons who require a different type of attention than we normally do.

So that's all being looked at as how we can take the type of services we normally provide or the type of skills that we have and see what we can do.

With regard to the question about the governor's comment.  We are aware of the governor's comments, we have not received an RFA or a request to actually do any construction.  That would be something that we would look at.

At this time, I think there are some other options out there that -- that -- we've seen private companies that are able to do some of the construction.  There's -- there are other facilities.  But we have not been asked to take a look at that yet.  But we are standing by to -- to look at RFAs as they come in and work with the White House on deciding how we best support this.

Jeff?

Q:  Former Vice President Joe Biden floated the idea of the military building these tent hospitals with 500 beds.  Is that one of the options that is being considered right now?

FRIEDRICHS:  So we -- we do have tent hospitals.  They are deployable hospitals and much as was just mentioned, the challenge is they are designed to take care of trauma patients and combat casualties.  And so, you know, we have a variety of capabilities that -- much like our fixed facility hospitals, our deployable hospitals vary in size.  And the specific capabilities are tailored to whatever the mission is.

So we have supported humanitarian operations, as you're well aware in the past.  We've support relief efforts during natural disasters.  But what we're trying to be very careful of is not overpromising.  You know, we want to be factual about what we have.  Our fixed facilities are designed to the force that we have.  They're not thousand-bed medical centers all over the United States.  They're, for the most part, small community hospitals.

Our deployable hospitals range in size and range in capabilities and are very much focused and designed to take care of those in combat.  So as those are useful if we’re asked to deploy them, we have great colleagues I'm very proud to serve with them and as Mr. Hoffman said, I think -- you know, they'll deliver excellent care if asked to do so.

But the colleagues that we have in uniform, primarily, are focused on the specific military needs that we have.

Q:  What is being done to make sure that the troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have enough tests for coronavirus?

FRIEDRICHS:  So, I'm not aware of any -- in fact, I was on the phone with the CENTCOM surgeon over the weekend.  I'm not aware of any lack of tests; that I believe there's been some concern about the fact that the equipment to run the test, that specific machine, is not in Afghanistan and that's true.

You know, we have a relatively small footprint in Afghanistan.  We have now 13 labs that are up and running with that machine around the world.  The closest one to Afghanistan that's a military lab is our lab in Germany.

There are also other nations in the Middle East that have this specific type of equipment.  So what we do with any lab that we can't perform in a deployed environment is we fly it or ship it to the nearest lab they can perform it.

That doesn't mean that they're not getting tested.  I mean, we're doing the swabs. We're just not running the test itself in Afghanistan.

HOFFMAN:  And to be clear, I had this conversation with General McKenzie when he was here on Friday and asked him that specific question.  And I think CENTCOM has put out a statement on this that says--well we're not aware of any individual in Afghanistan, despite some reporting out there otherwise, that has indicated an inability to get tested.  We're actually pretty confident that they're able to get tested, be swabbed in country, the sample sent to Landstuhl to be tested and those test results reported back to the individual.

One – a couple things on the first question that I’ll just point out.  Talking about tents and tent hospitals is once again the limiting factor being personnel.

So, even if we are able to build tents -- for hospitals we still need the doctors, we need the nurses.  We need the orderlies, we need the equipment and all that in there.

And as the doctor mentioned -- the General mentioned, those individuals from our system would come from existing hospitals for the reserves.  And as you heard General Abram’s discuss -- I think it was on Thursday -- how he called up those doctors who were assigned to him but were not yet forward deployed.

He called up those doctors, they went over to help over in U.S. Forces Korea.  In many cases they came from domestic military facilities here and that's similar to what would happen with a hospital like that.

And then the other thing I would just ask is you take a look at this in the framework of the civilian society and how many beds and hospitals are available on the civilian side vs. on DoD.  We have a surge capacity.

We have a capability.  That number is -- when you look at what DoD can do compared to what is existing in the civilian side -- I don't know if you have the percentage -- but it was 2 or 3 percent of the civilian -- of the hospital beds in the country are DoD beds.  So.

Barbara?

Q:  Dr. Friedrichs just a couple of follow-ups.  As you think about this and plan, what is the latest information you have about what the threat volume is essentially that you're planning against?  What does the data tell you now about how many Americans, including military, might need hospitalization?

Also can you tell us how many ventilators are in military inventory?  And also -- my very -- other quick question -- you mentioned, I think that the Secretary and the Deputy are no longer you know within eyeball range of each other.  What’s your recommendation to the Chairman and the Vice Chairman, the Nuclear Forces, Special Ops, the short-string forces that cannot afford to be in other than full strength?

FRIEDRICHS:  So we can spend the next hour going through all the details on that.  I'll see if I can give it an abbreviated response.  So from a data standpoint, the good news is that now we're getting accurate data from Italy, and from Korea, and from here in the United States, I think we’re getting a much clearer picture.

CDC is doing an excellent job of updating that data, so that we understand how widespread this is and as you -- you and others have reported -- or your organizations have reported -- this disease is very easily transmitted.

And so that – as Dr. Fauci's commented on repeatedly one of the big concerns on our part is not so much the active duty force contracting the illness because it does not appear to make most younger people that sick.

It’s the active duty force contracting the illness and then spreading it to someone else.  So we're really looking at this from two lenses, of those who contract it how do we minimize the risk of them spreading to others, and also how do we ensure that we’re prepared to take care of our own beneficiaries or if asked take care of other patients as part of a whole of government response.

Q:  How many Americans?

FRIEDRICHS:  How many Americans do I think will get infected?

HOFFMAN:  That's a question for the CDC, they’re doing the modeling.

FRIEDRICHS:  Yes, I think the CDC is still -

Q:  But I’m asking against the scenarios that you've planned -- you're planning, so you must know or have an idea of what you are planning against.

HOFFMAN:  We're going to leave those -- we're going to leave the predictive modeling to the CDC. We're going to speak with one voice from the government on that.

Q:  So ventilators -- can you talk about the short-notice forces.  Chairman, Vice?

FRIEDRICHS:  So I will start with here in the building.  My recommendation has been, much as I shared with you all during one of our last sessions, that people practice social distancing and where they can avoid face-to-face meetings or getting within six feet of each other that they do so, and I’ve provided that advice for the last couple of weeks now.

It's the same advice that CDC has been providing.  So we put that out for the whole workforce, not just to the Chairman and the Secretary but to everybody that we want to practice that social distancing because that is one of the very unsexy but incredibly effective ways to minimize the spread and protect each other from getting sick.  So that's not unique to the senior leaders.  That's to everybody here in the building.

As far as the Special Forces or other units, the operational advice that we've given to the services across the board is look at those missions and identify what that right risk balance between the medical risk and the operational requirements.  And so, different units have come up with different solutions to that to mitigate the risk to force while preserving mission capabilities.  It's not a one size fits all.  It very much depends on what that specific unit's mission is and how best to support it going forward.

But as we've looked at the plans, I think they're all solid plans, at least the ones that I've seen, and they involve everything from doing shift work or having certain people work together for two weeks in a location and then work from home.  Trading teams in and out, much as commercial companies are doing so that you don't have everybody in one place at one time.

Kind of common sense things to minimize the risk that an entire crew or an entire unit might be impacted at one time if someone gets sick and (inaudible).

HOFFMAN:  And we're going to -- and we're looking to have additional briefings this week from the different combatant commanders.  I believe, and don't hold me to this, but we're attempting to have the STRATCOM Commander connect with you guys potentially tomorrow as well, so I think he'll be able to get into some of those questions Barbara on how we ...

Q:  Can you tell me how many respirators there are in the U.S. military?

HOFFMAN:  So right now it's a number that we're not prepared to give out.  So we're going to work on that.

Q:  Can I just ask why that is?

HOFFMAN:  Because the number deals with our deployable medical capability, which is a number that we're not prepared to give out.  So we can get back to you on that and we're working through it.  All right, I'm going to try something tricky here.  I'm going to try to go with somebody's who's on the line.  So Matthew Cox from military.com.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. Hoffman.  Can you hear me OK?

HOFFMAN:  Yes.

Q:  Could you maybe provide an update on how the recent travel restrictions are affecting shipping dates for basic training, boot camp for the services, as well as any deployment delays, cancelation, updates?

HOFFMAN:  So on specific instances, I would refer you to the services because as the guidance was given, it gives a lot of flexibility to the service secretaries and the combatant commanders to make waivers, but the way the guidance was given was with the ability of those individuals to issue waivers based on mission-essential necessities.

So the commanders have that ability to determine that.  If a certain deployment or if a certain rotation or certain training is mission-essential, they have the ability to move forward with that.  We are taking a look at the training programs given the size of those programs and the impact that a major delay on training could have, so we're looking at that and may have some updates on that in the near future.  But for the most part we believe that the commanders at the four-star level all the way down to the one-star level have the authority to minimize any disruptions to their forces and that any individual who is in that pipeline and is looking for guidance on what to do, we've given the instruction.  We've tried to be as transparent and thorough in this as possible and instructing them to reach out to their supervisors in their chain of command to get some guidance.

Q:  Just as a quick follow-up, is there any update on DEFENDER-Europe?  I know that the deployments were halted as of I think it's March -- gee it’s in the past couple days.  There's like 6,000 on the ground over there right now, but there were supposed to be 20,000.  Is there any updates to that as far as more troops are going to be sent or not?

HOFFMAN:  No, I don't have any updates for you on that.  I would direct you to Europe, or EUCOM.  They have the lead on making a determination.  At the time we made the announcement, they did indicate that there was likely some additional forces that would be flowed forward to that -- to that command -- or, sorry, to that exercise.

I don't have an update on the numbers of it, but we are looking to -- although the main exercise may be somewhat constrained, to look at individual pieces of that exercise and continue with them to get as much benefit out of them as possible.

Q:  OK, thank you.

Q:  If the guard is activated, and let's say a guardsman is a doctor fulltime in local hospital where there's that need, what will be the policy decision?  Will that member of the military still be called up and taken away from that local civilian hospital, or would they be left to remain at the civilian hospital?

FRIEDRICHS:  So I think that's exactly the--one of the calculations, if you will, that have to be made in making a decision to do that.  Look, you know I've been wearing this uniform now for 30-some odd years.  I've done it -- whatever it was that the country asked me to do, and I think that anyone wearing this uniform would say the same thing.

Fully recognize that as those decisions are made, senior leaders are going to balance if we take someone from here and send them over there, what's the impact?  Is the benefit greater over here than it is over there?

From the military side, we are here to deter and defend and support our civil -- colleagues, but that -- that is one of the key considerations going forward.

HOFFMAN:  So I -- I understand, as a reservist, that part of the tracking that you do is you have to keep your command updated about what your civilian employment is, and when there's a crisis there's not a rush to deploy a bunch of JAGs, so we don't usually have the same situation.  Nobody wants to get a bunch of lawyers out there at the heart of a crisis, so it's not the same way.  But that is--something that's being looked at is trying to get visibility down to the individual level of how are those -- how are those medical providers being used in their local communities, so that if we do have to make a decision, as the doctor said, that it's something that balances what is going on in the local community and that we're not disrupting them.

Q:  And then may I -- sort of follow up, you've mentioned that there was a surge capability for building field hospitals.  Can you give us a sense of what those numbers were?  Could the military, put up a 500-bed hospital in one of these affected areas in a rapid amount of time?

FRIEDRICHS:  So we have -- we have different deployable hospital capability ranging from 25 beds up to much larger than that.  I think the largest capability that you've all seen is the hospital ship, which has hundreds of beds on it.  And it -- then the question becomes what do they need?  The challenge is, as we've mentioned before, if we build a 200-bed or a 25-bed trauma hospital to take care of people with coronavirus, that's not really a great solution to the coronavirus challenge.

And so what we're working through as we participate in discussions is here's what we have, here's what it does very well, which is trauma care and acute care and emergency care, and we have not been tasked to provide those to any specific location, but those are the types of medical capabilities that we have.  We don't have any 500-bed hospitals designed for infectious disease outbreaks.  That does not exist in the inventory.

HOFFMAN:  And then the doctor mentioned the Comfort -- and I'm sure many of you have been on the Comfort or the Mercy and seen how it's configured.  You have litters that are stacked floor to the ceiling with individuals, you have open-bay rooms because they're intended for trauma and for dealing with people who have suffered some sort of trauma, not for an infectious disease environment.  There are some beds for that, but it's a much smaller number.

So I just wanted to clarify on all of these conversations, the Department of Defense is ready, willing, and able to support civilian authorities to the greatest extent possible at the direction of the President.  We just want to make sure that the conversation that's being had is informed by the facts of what is possible and what is not, and what those tradeoffs are.

We are engaged in these conversations across the government right now and how we can best support, and we will continue to be a part of those and then follow the guidance set out by the Secretary and by the President.

Lara?

Q: So two questions.  First of all, can you just tell us what the chain of command is on DoD-wide guidelines?  Is it -- is the Deputy Secretary of Defense who's in charge and does it go down to P&R?  How does that work exactly?  And then my second question is there's been mounting concern about federal workers who are sick who are still coming into work.  So what are your policies on disclosures and how do you ensure that people who are sick aren't coming in?

HOFFMAN:  So on the first one, let me just make sure I have this correct.  So you're asking what is -- how are we promulgating guidance within the department?  So the Secretary's in charge.  On some issues he's delegated that responsibility of the Deputy Secretary, so I think we saw one of the memos last week that came out was from the Deputy Secretary.  P&R has the overall look at things affecting the workforce, civilian, contractors, and force health protection, the Pentagon Reservation, WHS reports to them.  But then you additionally have the services that have the responsibility for their personnel, so it's a -- it's a big building.  It's a big organization, and we have a lot of different people, but it all runs up to the Secretary of Defense making decisions based on the guidance he had gotten.

And I'll tell you this morning we had a -- we had a two-hour VTC.  Everybody -- we're not even in the three rooms anymore.  We're in a bunch of different rooms calling in to this, and we went through a lot of those decisions with the Secretary and looking at the different policies that are begin evaluated, and he was being briefed out on all of them and teeing up different decisions he may make in the next few days.

Q:  And then the second question on the federal workers who are sick still coming in?

FRIEDRICHS:  OK, yes. So you know, we put out very clear guidance that if you're sick you should not come into work.  If you see someone who's sick, you should send them home.  And you know, if they look like or sound like they need help, get medical help for them.  So as you may be aware, we have a small clinic downstairs here in the building, and there's a variety of other military medical facilities around the D.C. area where folks can go for care depending on what they need.

But this really starts with the individual, and I think it is not about policy at this point.  It's about a shared commitment to minimize the impact of this outbreak, and each of us individually has a responsibility.  If you're sick or if you live with someone who's sick, stay home.  That's common sense.  That's good medicine, and that is -- that's the message that we're sharing with everybody.

Q:  And I will say one thing that that people stay home and some cities and states have...

GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  I've got two people in my office who I have personally sent home because they came in and I said you should not be here.  Go home.  But I got a lot of work to do.  I said, I don't care.  It can wait.  The sun will come up tomorrow, I'm very confident.  I would rather that we minimize this outbreak than try and get the next report done on time, and that's an important distinction right now.  This is recognizing that the priority is minimizing the spread of this outbreak.

As the Secretary has said, you know, our first commitment is to protecting the health of our service members and their families.  That starts with our responsibility to them and their responsibility to stay home if they're sick.

HOFFMAN:  OK.

Q:  If I may, encouraging telework is different than mandating telework obviously...

HOFFMAN:  That's in the chain -- that's the chain and risk assessment that we go through every day.  So we have meetings every single day where we look at what are the numbers, what's the risk to the Reservation, what's the risk to the workforce, and we make changes.  So as you saw last week, we went from social distancing to--on Monday to Wednesday I think we banned international travel, to Friday we banned domestic travel -- restricted.  Today the buffet is shut down.  You know, there's different levels and the risk that you go -- tolerance that you go through.  And we'll continue to work our way up that as needed while still trying to maintain the ability of the Department of Defense to do those strategic essential missions.

I want to just go to the phone again, so we'll try this. Dan Lamothe from The Washington Post.

Q:  Nothing at this time thank you.

HOFFMAN:  OK, all right.  So I'll do another phone one since Dan's question was cleared.  Nick Schifrin, PBS.

Q:  Hey, guys, thank you so much for -- for doing this.  In terms of the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, you know, I talk to them, I see and State all the time, neither of them have made that distinction of separating the top official from his or her deputy?  So could you just explain a little bit why you've done that and why you've taken that specific task?  And then coming back to Afghanistan and Iraq, I understand there's no lack of tests, although the labs are being utilized elsewhere.  Have there been any positives, any updates on either quarantining within the war zones or any kind of positive there?  Thanks.

FRIEDRICHS:  So I'll take your last question first, if I may.  The short answer is no, we've not had any positive tests in Afghanistan and thus far we've not received any reports of anyone who needs care who's not able to receive it.

And I think from the standpoint of your question about social distancing, you know, we've been very transparent and very proactive in implementing the CDC guidelines.  My deputy's working from home this week.

That's not because I'm special, it's just -- it's the right thing to do.  It's what commercial companies are doing, it's what nonprofits are doing.  It's the right thing to do.  So I don't think that we're doing anything particularly unusual.  We're just implementing the CDC guidance.

HOFFMAN:  Yes, and I think you have to look at each department and each agency on what -- what -- missions that they have and what meetings or operations they have ongoing at any certain time and the resources available to make those measures take place.

And so at Department of Defense, we've -- we're set up so that our commanders can and our leaders can do -- do their jobs from anywhere in the world at any time and so we're able to take advantage of that probably to an extent that -- that even major companies and others aren't able to.

So we're going to continue to do what we need to protect the leadership and protect the workforce so that we will have that ability as this goes on to help -- help the civilian government respond.

Jennifer?

Q:  Jonathan, have there been any positive cases in the Pentagon Reservation, any positive tests?  And also, is -- can you clarify whether the government is preparing for a national quarantine and whether the U.S. military has been asked to prepare for that?

FRIEDRICHS:  So, the Pentagon question, I think we answered that on Saturday but -- yes, so we have -- we've had one contractor not in this building but in one of the other building within the Pentagon complex who was identified, he said he wasn't feeling well, went in, was tested and positive and coworkers have been appropriately asked to stay home.  None of them are sick at this point in time.

That was five or six days ago.  And he's doing fine, is the last report that I heard.

HOFFMAN:  Then we have the one Marine who was down at Ft. Belvoir.  I think those are the two that we've mentioned as kind of in the Reservation area.  I think your other question was about the Instagram or text message hubbub that went on last night about a national quarantine and planning that.  Not familiar with anything on that.

I think the White House put out a statement that that was untrue and is not something that's under consideration at this time.  So I’ll direct you to them.

Q:  OK, and just one quick follow-up.  In terms of the Navy ships, you have one case onboard the USS Boxer.  You have the USS Carney in South Africa that has pulled into port there and an ambassador -- U.S. ambassador -- who was at Mar-a-Lago on March 7th, visited that ship and is seen in Twitter pictures onboard that ship.

When are you going to either -- or is it appropriate to stop port calls and stop visitors from stepping on the ships that are now vulnerable with regards to the U.S. Navy?

HOFFMAN:  So I don't have an update for you on what the Navy's position is with the ships that are deployed or at sea.  I have confidence that the Navy will look at that risk ladder and decide at a point when it's best to cease having on-board visitors.

But I do know they've taken steps already with regard to the 14 days at sea between ports, to limit any potential spread and allow them to evaluate whether anybody on the ship has come into contact at their last port visitor or at their last contact with -- with others.

So we'll continue to look at what they're going to do, but I'd refer you to the Navy on what -- what they may change up with that policy, I haven't seen any changes recently.

Courtney?

Q:  General, a few quick follow-ups.  You said there's been no positive tests in Iraq or Afghanistan, can you say how many service members or civilians have been tested in that area?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Well yes, I can.  So 495 total tests have been done as of yesterday morning, and I don't have the breakdown by active duty versus family members versus retirees.  But in the 13 labs that we have in DoD with the capability to do those tests, we've done 495 tests.

And then of the...

Q:  Is that global?

FRIEDRICHS:  Globally, yes.

Q:  Globally.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Right. And then -- and again, there's a lag in this data.  So that's -- as of yesterday morning, the update that we received, that was Friday's data.  Part of that is because we're collecting data.

We -- as I mentioned in previous sessions, we have a lab in Germany, we have a lab in Korea that's running the test.  And so I want to make sure we get their data in before we say, here's something that we ran on a particular day.  So this was Friday's data.

How many service members have tested positive, I'm tracking 15 service members as of 5:00 this morning.  As we've mentioned before, that will continue to change.

Q:  I’m sorry, I meant specifically to Iraq and Afghanistan, that either there were no...

FRIEDRICHS:  Not in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Q:  But that's none have been tested?  How many have been tested there?

FRIEDRICHS:  I don't know the numbers that have been tested there, but none have been positive.

Q:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDRICHS:  Yeah.  So, yeah, that -- so this is why I said at 5 o'clock in the morning, it was 15.  This was updated.  After I got my update, this is the 5 o'clock morning update, this came out at 7 o'clock in the morning and it was 18. So.

Q:  And then -- so, OK.  And then one more thing for you, Doctor -- General...

HOFFMAN:  And we'll -- and with those numbers, we'll try to -- every time we give you a number, we'll give you a timestamp of when it's updated as of, so you guys can be on board that.

FRIEDRICHS:  Yeah, but the reason I went with the 15 -- in case you're wondering about that -- is I've got the details on the 15, I don't have the details on the 18.  I've been in meetings since I got to (inaudible), so, yeah,

Q:  And then I just want to be clear on the hospital ships.  Is there -- is there any role the hospital ships can play in – in the outbreak ...

FRIEDRICHS:  Absolutely, absolutely.

Q: ...  Because it sounded as if maybe it wouldn't be bringing people on, but could equipment or personnel be taken from the hospital ship and brought to...

FRIEDRICHS:  So I -- you know, we have supported our nation in a number of ways.  And as military medics, one of the things the hospital ship is really good at is providing the sort of care it's designed for.  So if, for example, a community has a large outbreak and there is a need for emergency room support or trauma support, a hospital ship’s perfectly designed to do that.

Whether that's the right capability to get to the right place, hard to get the hospital ship to St. Louis.  But along the coast, it's -- you know, it is an option to use.

What I -- and I want to go back to something I said earlier.  I would hate for anyone to misperceive my comments, saying that we're not willing to help.  Obviously, if the option is a surgeon taking care of you or no one taking care of you, you want a surgeon taking care of you.

And, you know, we're all into help, that's been the message from the Secretary from day one in supporting the whole-of-government response.

What we don't -- what I personally would also feel uncomfortable with is, if we say the hospital ship is designed to take care of highly contagious infectious disease patients.

As Mr. Hoffman pointed out, when you stack four deep in litters, that doesn't really limit the spread of anything.  And so, it's being honest about the capabilities and trying to be as transparent as we can about the capabilities and what they're designed to do.

Q:  Yes, I think one of the things that’s been hard to access 24, 48 hours, is that there is a lot of information out there, specifically on social media, about the military -- that mixes up with the military's capabilities are versus what they actually -- they're actually maybe intentioned to do and you answered Jennifer's question on that, Jonathan, but like there's other things beyond just the idea of enforcing a mandatory quarantine.

One of them was, the military potentially the National Guard being used for -- to enforce nighttime curfew, something like that.  I know that that may not be something that's been asked for at this point, but is there even a discussion at this point about the military being used for more of that kind of law enforcement?  It wouldn't be unheard of, we saw it after Katrina and other natural disasters.  So, I mean, is there even a discussion at this point about --

FRIEDRICHS:  Well, just to clarify on the military part, of whether it's National Guard or DoD Title 10 versus Title 32, so --

Q:  I guess both, if you wouldn't mind addressing both?

HOFFMAN:  Well, I think the governors have the ability to call up the National Guard as they see fit, and that's happened in a couple places to assist with that.  And I think we saw today the Governor of Maryland activated 1,000 guardsmen to assist with their response.  So, you'll continue to see that.

They'll get -- there are a lot of things, as the General said, we have plans about how to plan, and so we have a lot of things that we can look at doing, and those things are being looked at.  We're looking at -- we're having requests come in that we'll look at.

But, as of right now, we'll come out to you as much as we can, and we'll be out in public and as transparent about it, coming to you guys when we have an announcement on something that's being decided.

But, I can't get into like every rumor or speculation about what the military could do or might have been asked to do.  Or somebody -- I mean, this week -- and you know, or what somebody on some sort of text chain said they heard from their friend who worked at this place that saw a guy that said this thing.  We can't be responding to all of that.  So -- but we're going to try to be as transparent as we can about the things that we are doing.

And you guys have been good about whenever you hear something, coming to us, and we'll get back to you and let you know as soon as we can whether something is fact or fiction.  And we're going to get that out there.

We're going to be doing briefings here as much as we can.  I'm going to try to have combatant commanders or the service chiefs in here at least once, if not twice a day this week.  We're going to be doing briefings and trying to get information to you guys as much as we can.

One last thing, just on the ships that you mentioned, the ships don't have people on them.  So, we can get you a ship, right now that ship has a bunch of merchant mariners on it who operate the ship.  There aren't 1,000 or 1,200 medical professionals with the ship waiting.  They have to come from somewhere else.  So, that gets back to that -- that staffing issue.

So, the ship is great, but the personnel aren't on it right now.  They're not sitting there waiting to be deployed. They're in a hospital in Lackland or they're somewhere else.  And a lot of times that is also the hospital ships, we partner with civilian groups that will go out with us to do some of the humanitarian missions we do, like we saw the Comfort do throughout South America this last -- this last six months.

All right, we're going to do one more and then we've got to go.

Q:  All right, thank you so much.  How -- how ready is the Pentagon, to build hospital beds, if asked?  What are the surge capabilities, how fast, you know, could that be spun up?  And is there a ballpark figure of how many beds could be built or provided?

HOFFMAN:  I think on the first question, on the -- to build beds.  I don't think we have an estimate on building hospitals, like constructing hospitals, pouring foundation and concrete and things like that.  I don't think we would have a number for you on that.  That's not a -- a request we've had before and that we would be -- we would be -- have on the records for how to do that or the numbers that we would be able to do.  We do have the numbers on the tent and the field hospitals and things like that and how quickly we can do that.  And we're looking into how fast we can deploy those.

FRIEDRICHS:  Yes and again I think the good news right now is as this -- as our country as a whole is responding to this outbreak we have not seen huge demand signals come into the DoD yet saying that we've got significant gap.  I was here all weekend and I did not receive anything specifically that says we need this number of beds in this location.  What we do have are these tailorable packages and some of them can move very quickly, they can move by airplane, others are much larger like the ship that takes a few days to get underway and you have to bring the crew to it.  But what we have tried to be very clear about is if folks need help let us know what it is, you know, work through the White House through the Department of Health and Human Service that's the lead for this and then we can offer here's what we can do to meet that requirement with the capabilities that we have and how quickly it can move.

HOFFMAN:  And just finally we've got to go because the general obviously has a lot of important things to be doing.  He's here 14 hours a day everyday working on this so I want to get him back to -- back to his office.  But the solution to coronavirus is going to be a whole-of-government approach and DoD is going to be a part of that so we'll keep you guys updated on how we're going to play a role in that and what we're going to do.  Thank you guys.