Transcript

Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman and Joint Staff Surgeon Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs Press Briefing

March 18, 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.  Thank you for being here as the situation continues to evolve around the COVID-19 outbreak.  We want to get you some additional information today, and then after we give some updates, we'll take some questions.

So first, I'll start off with the numbers that we have for the day.   Right now, we have 49 military cases, 14 civilian cases, 19 dependents and seven contractors.  That is as of...

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAUL FRIEDRICHS:  5:00 o'clock.

MR. HOFFMAN:  ... 5:00 o'clock this morning.  So those are our most recent numbers.

Just some other updates: as you're aware, Secretary Esper was at the White House earlier today with the president and the vice president to provide an update on DOD response to the coronavirus and the department's support for the whole-of-government.  As was announced by the president, the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy are being prepared for deployment as needed to assist potentially overwhelmed communities with acute patient care.

Finally, we recognize the importance of transparency during times of crisis like this.  We're disappointed in the Chinese government's decision to ban reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  Where in times like this, freedom of the press and government transparency are -- are crucial and critical to combating misinformation and keeping the public informed.  We strongly encourage the government of China to reconsider this decision. 

So with that, we'll take your questions.  Bob?

Q:  So I'm wondering if you can provide some additional details on the plans for the Comfort and the Mercy as to whether either of them is ready to deploy soon, or when they're going to deploy, where they're going to deploy, that kind of thing.

MR. HOFFMAN:  So I -- I start off with where they're going to deploy to.  I think, as mentioned this morning, or earlier today by the -- the president, the -- the Comfort will -- is intended to -- to head to New York and that area.  On timing-wise, that -- that is a little bit more difficult.  So as -- as everyone knows and we've talked about the last few days, the Comfort's currently in for maintenance in Norfolk, and so they're going to expedite the maintenance that they can and prepare it.  That's not a -- that's not a days issue; that's a -- that's a weeks issue, so it's going to be a little while.  At that time, it's intended to head to New York and -- but we'll continue to evaluate the situation and make a determination on where it's best suited.

Q:  What about the Mercy?

MR. HOFFMAN:  With regard to the Mercy, the Mercy will be prepared and -- and ready to go much sooner.  It is a -- it -- it is a -- had a warning -- they've had a warning order to get ready for the last few days, so they are hopefully going to be prepared to go in days, not weeks.  But we'll have more information for you later at that point.

Q:  (inaudible)

MR. HOFFMAN:  When it is prepared to sail we will make a determination on where it is going to go. 

Q:  Is it going to be fully-staffed and...?

MR. HOFFMAN:  I can't -- I'll let the general talk to the staffing situation, but as we've talked about over the last few days, staffing's an issue.  We're going to make sure that we -- we do the best we can and we get those resources out to the governors and to the mayors that have asked for them.  And so we're -- we're looking to do that, but we are working through the staffing issue.

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  And so I -- from a staffing standpoint, we're staff -- we're planning right now to staff it with a typical staff that would deploy with the hospital ships.  And this -- we're going to have to adjust that, I think, as we get a better sense from the local leadership of what they need.

As we shared with you during the last press briefing, these ships are designed for trauma and for combat casualties.  And so that's the staff that we'll -- that we're planning to deploy with it right now.

Our understanding is that the intent is that the ships will be used to take non-coronavirus patients, which is what our staff are best assigned and organized to do.  And if that's the case, then we'll adjust the numbers and the mix of staff based on what we learn from the local leadership.

Q:  Are they staff from around the country?  And are they both civilian and military staff?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  So right now, we're looking at our military staffing, that's part of the assessment.  And the warning order went out Monday based on the discussions on Monday, and so we're going through and identifying exactly where the staff will come from, which military treatment facilities or other locations the staff will come from.

Q:  They're all military-based or military...

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Again, we're working through that.  I -- I suspect that that is going to be the case, but that's exactly what we're working through right now, is to identify where best to take them so that we balance the load.

STAFF:  Tom?

Q:  Jonathan, there was a report today that a large number of coronavirus test kits had been flown by the Air Force from Italy to the United States.  Can you talk about that...

MR. HOFFMAN:  Yeah, so...

Q:  ... how many are we talking?

MR. HOFFMAN:  ... so the -- yesterday, the Air Force, I think it was a National Guard unit, transported 500,000 -- they're actually swabs, so it was actually the swabbing for testing. 

So the general can get into more detail, he knows this a little bit better.  But it was the swabs, not specifically the kits.  But it's part of that -- that testing process, that were transported from -- from Italy to -- to Memphis.  And then in Memphis, they were loaded onto FedEx aircraft and distributed per HHS direction around the country.

Q:  They've already been distributed, or...

MR. HOFFMAN:  They were loaded on yesterday, so.

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Yeah, so Mr. Hoffman is exactly right.  There's -- there's multiple parts to testing.  The first is the swabs that are used to collect the -- the sample from the individual who's being tested.  Then there's a liquid that we call the transport media that you put the swab into.  So that's what composed what we brought over from Italy.

And this is, I believe, a great example of how nations are working together to ensure that we're meeting the global demand.  So there's a company here in the United States that's working around the clock, producing these swabs.  And we're working with international partners to meet our full demand going forward on this.  So this is, I think, a good, news story of how countries work together.

When the swabs get here, HHS is distributing them and they can give you more details on where exactly they're going.

Q:  Well, what's the next step after the swabs -- and then you test, and then what?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  So the swabs are sent out to the different medical facilities, they're used to test patients and then they go to a lab that has the right equipment to analyze the swabs and see if there's coronavirus on a swab or not.

MR. HOFFMAN:  So the swabs would go to your -- your doctor's office; the test kit would go to the lab.  And so these were items that were intended to go to doctors in areas where they're taking the test, instead of the actual test kits themselves.

Q:  Is there enough equipment and lab space to get it right through to the -- to finding out if someone is positive for coronavirus?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  So from the DOD perspective, you know, we've talked a few times about that.  So we have 14 labs up and running around the country right -- and around the Department of Defense, that are performing these tests for us. 

And I know someone will ask, so I will just tell you -- I've got the number here -- that -- I had it, I'll find it -- 936 patients have been tested as of yesterday in our DOD labs.  And so we've got the reagents, we've got the chemicals that we need.  So we're continuing to move forward with that testing.

And I'll answer a question that came up yesterday.  Somebody had asked the secretary of defense about where we are with other testing opportunities.  As many of you know, over the weekend, the Food and Drug Administration did an emergency use authorization for a new test to be performed in the lab that was developed by Roche and then another one that was developed by Thermo Fisher Scientific.

And so as those roll out, we're looking at whether we have the equipment in our labs to perform those tests and we have one lab that has the Roche equipment and then all of the labs that are currently performing the coronavirus tests can also perform the Thermo Fisher tests.

So we're expanding our ability ...

Q:  ... do we know where these swabs have been sent?  Is it presumably to the hot spots first ...

MR. HOFFMAN:  That's a question for HHS.  So this was a -- a request from them to support.  So I -- I -- and I'd just point out I think the -- the -- the comment is that, not the test kits, but part of that testing process is what this was.

Idrees?

Q:  Could you just give us some details on -- on the field hospitals that were sort of mentioned?  What is the stockpile that we're talking about?  Are we talking dozens of field hospitals?  (Inaudible) I know the Army Corps of Engineers are up in New York, but what is the potential that could actually be provided?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Yeah, so I'm going to not completely answer that because we typically don't lay out every deployable capability and numbers that we have.  We have a variety of deployable medical units that we can provide.

The Air Force has units called the expeditionary medical system that have 25 beds in them.  Those are rapidly deployable, usually by air.  The Army has combat support hospitals -- much larger.  Those can deploy by air or by ground, and then they also have field hospitals, which are not as big.  They're about 32 beds.

The Navy has the two hospital ships that we were talking about before, and then they have something called an EMF, an Expeditionary Medical Facility, which has 150 beds.  So we have a -- a variety of options, depending on what the requirement is, that we could provide, but we're not going to provide the exact numbers of how many the DOD has of this or that.

Q:  So in New York, what's the magnitude of potential -- I mean are we talking dozens of field hospitals, hundreds? 

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Well I don't think we know at this point.  The -- you know, that -- we're eager to hear the exact requirement and understand what it is and understand across the country what that requirement is.  You know, that -- I can't speak for New York, but it -- we're all watching the same news channels and we're watching the numbers as they change.

I think we're seeing a number of people coming back, growing numbers with positive tests.  We're hoping to better understand where there's demand on the hospital system that exceeds that hospital system's capacity.

And then we'll work with HHS as the supported or the lead federal agency for this to decide what's the best capability if we're asked to help with that.

MR. HOFFMAN:  And part of that is we want to make sure that -- that this is our reserve.  I mean, this is the -- this is the government's -- the -- the -- the whole of government's reserve.  And so once we deploy that reserve in one place, we don't have the ability to move it to another place.  So we need to -- we need to be able to -- to monitor, keep track. 

The secretary's been having conversations with governors.  He had a number of them yesterday, he's had a number of calls today to talk with them and -- and just get a better sense of exactly what they need because they -- they may be -- or people on their team may be asking for beds.

We've talked to a couple of governors where it's actually a -- a -- one type of equipment.  We talked to one governor where they were looking for -- for swabs.  So there's different things that they're looking for that a lot of times are getting reported up and just -- we need help.

And so we've been trying to work to understand a little bit better of -- the military works well if you tell us what the -- the problem you're trying to solve is, not the resource you need.  And then we can come back and say "here's the problem you have, here's what we can do to help" and that's what we're trying to do right now.  Courtney?

Q:  So I don't understand how that matches with putting the Mercy on a warning order then, because it -- the -- so you must have gotten some kind of -- I -- I thought -- I feel like all -- all -- we keep hearing, ‘the request comes in for this specific capability, for this location, this many people and stuff,’ so -- but -- so there must be -- you must know where the Mercy's going and what they need from it.

And -- and I also don't really understand how we've been hearing for several days that -- that ship -- ships like this and bringing in the military just takes these same capabilities from the civilian world, cause many of them are reservists and volunteers and stuff.

So how...

MR. HOFFMAN:  So I think -- to your second part first, I would say, nobody said that that was an insurmountable problem, we just were laying out that there was an issue there.  So we're working through how to -- to work through that, that concern, that tradeoff, and find a way to provide that.

With regard to the timing of it, the reason the Mercy and the Comfort are being put on warning orders is because unlike the field hospitals, which are small, deployable, that can readily be put on an aircraft, flown anywhere in the country and dropped wherever you need them within, you know, hours or days.

The Mercy and the Comfort, even after that -- after the Mercy leaves San Diego, it's still got to sail wherever it's going to go.  So it's just -- it's a longer lead time.  So we're trying to lean into that.

This is a fast-evolving situation.  We don't know where we're going to be in a week or two weeks, so we're trying to -- trying to move forward as quickly as we can and lean forward on it.  And so even when the secretary was in here yesterday and indicated we have given that warning order over the weekend, so we're trying to lean forward and get ahead of it.

Q:  And -- and I don't know, maybe this is more for you, doctor.  You do believe at this point now -- it's been several days since the Mercy got their warning order -- that it's going to be uniformed military who will be staffing it up, as far as medical personnel?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Yeah, so I think that's what we're going to look at first, and understand what we can do with the uniformed personnel and whether there are other options available.

But as Mr. Hoffman said, you know, this is dynamic.  And so what -- what I'm reluctant to do is say, here's the answer for what we're going to do in 10 days, or even in eight days.  Because it -- we're trying to find the best way to balance all of the requests that we're receiving, both from our own patients who are seeking care, and from those communities that are seeking assistance, and figure out how best to support them.

MR. HOFFMAN:  And then to the point on -- on the military personnel, it's fastest for DOD to activate and deploy military...

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Right.

MR. HOFFMAN:  ... active duty military personnel.  And then the Reserves, and then into the communities for civilian personnel.  So given the short timeframe and what we're trying to do, we're going to look at the -- the active component first, and then we'll start to work through, given how much time we have.

Q:  Can you (inaudible) not bring up retirees, medical retirees?  Is that -- is there a precedent for that, or is it...

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  So there -- there absolutely is a precedent.  Congress -- precedent for that.  Congress has, you know, passed a number of laws that provide a variety of tools or mechanisms to augment the military force.  But it kind of gets back to your earlier point.  As we look at people who are no longer in uniform or who are in Guard or Reserve units, taking them out of the civilian community may not necessarily be the right risk-benefit tradeoff.

And so look, you know, I think Mr. Hoffman will vouch for this.  Most of us were in here all weekend, you know, working through different scenarios to see what's within the realm of possible that creates the least strain on the whole health care system while providing the greatest options to support different communities as they need it.

What we ask for is that the communities are as specific as possible about what they really need, rather than saying, you know, I want this, as -- you know, as was described a moment ago.  We need help with ventilators, or we need help with testing equipment or whatever, so that we can tailor what we send forward.

Because as was mentioned, once the hospital ship sails, it takes a while for it to go somewhere else, you know, it just does.  Not for lack of desire, it's just physics and gravity, unfortunately.

STAFF:  David?

Q:  I understand you're not going to tell us your total capacity in mobile units.  Has -- but when the secretary was talking about putting units on alert, was he talking about all the units or can you tell us how many hospital beds' worth of units have been put on alert, as opposed to your entire capacity.

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Yeah, so the -- so the chairman put a number of active duty units on alert, and this goes back to the discussion about active duty and reserve units.  We did not put reserve units on alert at this time because we're sensitive to that competing demand.  So we're looking at active duty units, and we've put a number of different types on alert, so that we at least have some units ready to go out the door, depending on what request we get.

Again, right now, what we're trying to do is make sure that we have a range of options available to meet the requests that may come to us from the Department of Health and Human Services, and from other communities.

I'm a little reluctant to get into specifics because if I say this unit's on alert, I'm pretty confident in 30 minutes, someone's going to come back and say, well, that's the unit that I want.

So what we would recommend is, you know, as communities identify where they have a challenge, work with the Department of Health and Human Services and with FEMA and identify what that challenge is, so that we can then describe which capability is best suited to meet that challenge.

Q:  But how many beds are on alert?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  So right now I think we have over 1,000 -- not counting the hospital ships, over a thousand beds on alert.

Q:  And a separate issue.

MR. HOFFMAN:  Sure.

Q:  A soldier’s been texting from Fort Bliss, he's in quarantine.  He says prisoners are treated better than they're being treated, three to a 15-by-15 room, two meals a day, no exercise.  Are you trying to do anything about that?

MR. HOFFMAN:  So I've talked to the secretary about this earlier today, so he's aware.  His -- his response is, we can do better and we need to do better.  And so I know that the commander at Fort Bliss is aware, he has been in contact.  My understanding is that he met with all the soldiers who are quarantined and talked through some of their concerns. 

They're looking to make some changes, such as setting up for more time for people to be outside of the rooms and being able to travel around, setting up access to -- to AAFES [Army and Air Force Exchange Service] so that they can get some sundries and items like that.  And also, looking at other bases that are doing quarantines.  We're checking to see how they're holding up and doing this as well.

So we -- we can do better.  They're aware of it, and they're working through it.

Q:  It seems like you can take passengers on a cruise ship and give them each their own room.  Soldiers coming back from a war zone might deserve better than three to a room.  And so...

MR. HOFFMAN:  Like I said, David, we can do better.

Q:  You're just talking about letting them out more.

MR. HOFFMAN:  David, like I said, we can do better.  The commander on the ground's looking into it.  So we can get you with the Army on what they're doing.  But each commander is -- is looking at it and we're going to -- we're going to do better on this.  This is something that's unusual, for all these bases to be handling.  And they're doing the best they can.

And the secretary mentioned today, we appreciate the members who are either affected by this outbreak, either through the infections, their family's infection, and even these individuals who are being quarantined.  We owe it to them and we're going to look into it and try to do better.

Barbara?

Q:  I have a number of medical questions, if I might.  But first...

MR. HOFFMAN:  Is that for me or him?

Q:  For Dr. Friedrichs, if that's OK.

MR. HOFFMAN:  OK.

Q:  So when you said, a thousand beds on alert, not including the two hospital ships, to make sure I understand, you are talking about field hospitals?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  So you know, the field hospitals are an Army capability and then, as I mentioned, the Air Force...

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  1,000 beds, if I might? 

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  So they're deployable beds in a variety of different units.  And again, these are -- you know, these are tent-based units, these are not we're going to come and build a hospital in 10 days or anything like that.

Q:  And so the units that you put on alert, are those all medical hospital-related units?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Yes, just as we described...

Q:  And...

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  ... last time, right.

Q:  And -- and could you -- if you can't say the -- can you just consider letting us know what their capabilities are?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  So they're -- these are all designed for combat casualty care, for taking care of deployed units, and so their -- their primary capability is surgical.  That's what they're designed to do, as far as the most challenging cases, and then they take...

Q:  What -- what I really wanted to ask you is, at the White House briefing Dr. Birx talked about new data that they're receiving that indicates serious concern of young people in France and Italy now suffering serious cases of coronavirus, younger people than they expected.  I'm wondering if you guys are seeing any data yet that leads you to modify, amend or be concerned about your overall conclusions that the U.S. military is generally a young, healthy force and you expect and hope for minimal impact.  Are you seeing any data yet that increases your concern about the infection rate in younger people? 

And the secretary now is very forward-leaning on military assistance, when just a few days ago, he was more traditional about it, calling it a last resort.  What have you seen medically that is leading to -- in the country, that is leading to that change, as well as the younger people concern?

MR. HOFFMAN:  I -- I can take the second question first, because I think the -- what the secretary's comments the other day were is -- is laying out what the facts were about what our capabilities were and what we are able to do, and the timelines, and -- and setting the groundwork for that.  So the people like the secretary, the president, the media, the governors, are able to have conversations about what capabilities we have in a -- in a -- in a informed manner.  And so I think that's what we've seen over the last few days, and I think we've had a -- a good conversation about what the trade-offs are.  I think that was part of what we've been talking about the last few days of activating the Mercy or the Comfort -- their trade-offs. 

Q:  What changed his mind?

MR. HOFFMAN:  Well, I -- I think there's -- it's -- it's not just the secretary.  So the secretary works for the president, and the president makes determinations about military assets and personnel, and -- and the president and his entire team -- I don't want to speak for them, but the -- the whole-of-government approach is to lean very forward.  And -- and so leaning forward with the Comfort is, we need to start getting ready so that in days -- weeks, not days, that we're able to deploy it.  So we're monitoring it.  We're going to be making changes every day and trying to get new assets available and online if they need to be.  But it's -- it's a very dynamic, very fluid situation, but...

And your question was on a...

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  So I think on the medical questions, the short answer to your question is among the active-duty who have gotten sick so far in our population, we're not seeing that they're having a -- an unexpectedly more severe infection, which is good news.  Could that change?  Quite possibly, and yes, I have seen some of the data coming out of Europe and also out of Korea, and we've made this comment several times.  The good news is the Italians, the Koreans and our other European allies are being very transparent in sharing their full data about what they're seeing with their patient population.  That's invaluable.  That's what every responsible country should do -- should have done from day one with this, so that we have a clear understanding about exactly what's going to happen as this affects our own country.

So we're not seeing that yet in our military population.  Will we?  I don't know.  We're certainly tracking it very, very carefully.  We've got people round-the-clock as the data comes in looking at it to see if there's anything noteworthy from that.

Q:  Is...

MR. HOFFMAN:  So I -- I need to -- we've got a couple more minutes to get to some of the people who are on the -- on the phone call to instill confidence in our teleconferencing abilities here.  So I'm going to go open the lines for Fadi Mansour.

Q:  Hi, Jonathan.  Thank you for doing this.  I have two questions, one for the general on COVID-19. 

General, a number of days ago I asked you about the measures taken to deal with COVID-19, and you told me that at that time you thought that the season of flu is more dangerous than COVID-19.  I'm wondering if you still hold that view?  And if not, how did this change, the way you're dealing with it within the department?

And one question for Mr. Hoffman, it's -- it's about Iraq and pulling out from Al-Qaim base.  Can you talk about the latest movements of the U.S. military in Iraq, number of bases you're pulling out from, and whether the pullout from Al-Qaim will open the door for Iraqi militia associated with Iran to move in and out of Syria?  Thank you.

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  So I think to start with the question about the flu, I -- I believe what I said or at least what I intended to convey was, at the time and -- and still is the case, there are more people with the flu than there are people with the coronavirus.

The difference between the two, as we've talked about before in other sessions and as Dr. Fauci and others have discussed, is the coronavirus is easier to spread.  And as we collect more and more data, that's becoming very clear, that the coronavirus spreads more easily than the seasonal flu does.

So there is no question about that, that there are more people right now with a flu infection and have been over the course of the flu season than there are people with the coronavirus infection.  That does not change the fact that we are concerned as we watch how quickly the coronavirus has spread.

And the reason we've been out here for the last several weeks is because we are concerned about this new virus.  One of the reasons we're concerned, and we've mentioned this before, is unlike with the flu, for which we have a vaccine to minimize how many people become infected, we don't yet have a vaccine for the coronavirus.  We're doing a lot of great work on that and happy to talk about that at a follow up session. 

We also don't have medical countermeasures for the coronavirus like we have for the flu.  So you can -- you can go out and you can get Tamiflu from your pharmacy or from your doctor if you have the flu that shortens the duration and the severity of the infection.

We don't have similar drugs yet.  We're doing a lot of testing on a lot of drugs, both in this country and with other partners, so that we can identify whether there are drugs that will be similarly effective for coronavirus infections, but right now we don't have those.

And so, not having those measures is one of the reasons that we are paying a great deal of attention to this, because we don't know exactly how this is going to unfold.  We -- we still don't know if it's going to be seasonal.  Best case, it may prove to be seasonal and this is going to start tapering off.  That doesn't seem to be happening right now, but that's part of what we are also watching.  It's a known unknown if you will.

So I'm sorry if I created confusion earlier, but I hope that clarifies my comment.

MR. HOFFMAN:  With regard to Iraq, I'm -- I'm not going to be able to give you a lot of detail on that right now, and I -- and I apologize.  That's -- I'll have to get you in touch with Joint Task Force Iraq or CENTCOM to get a little bit more detail.

The -- been focused on coronavirus a great deal around here, so I don't have more on that.  Next, Dan Lamothe, Washington Post?

Q:  Yes, thank you.  I was hoping you could walk us through a -- the quarantine policy, if there is one, when it comes to returning from Afghanistan, returning from Iraq and especially if in some of these cases these service members are also transiting through a place like Kuwait or Ireland, where there -- there's -- there's multiple hops and those countries are also involved?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Yeah, so thanks, sir, and I -- we're basically following the same guidance that the CDC has put out for all Americans and, you know, it's a pretty straightforward approach, 14 days after leaving a CDC level two or level three country.

And the CDC has recommended home isolation if you're not having any symptoms.  The challenge with home isolation if you live in a barracks is that -- that's not exactly the ideal place if you've got a -- a open bay barracks, so it -- so we're adapting.

And as was mentioned earlier, you know, in some of the bases they're finding solutions, seeing what works and then adjusting as they go forward; but the goal is to minimize the risk that someone would come back into this country, bring the virus and then immediately get it -- get out into the community and spread it. 

And so that's what we're very mindful of, that not only do we have an obligation to the health of our service members and to their families, we also have an obligation to preserve our ability to do our military mission, and we have an obligation to the communities in which we have bases.

So we're -- we're doing exactly what the CDC recommended with folks who are coming back from overseas so that we minimize the risk in all of those areas.

MR. HOFFMAN:  All right.  Paul Handley, AFP, will be the last question.

Q:  Hello?  Paul Handley from AFP.  Look, I wanted to see if I could follow up on this -- on the Iraq stuff.  Have you -- think -- do you think you've reduced the threat of attacks from the militias?  You haven't responded in a few days to recent attacks that we know of.  Is there a kind of response coming?

And I had a second follow up.  Is there any worry that the spread of the -- the COVID-19 virus might affect the ability to keep ISIS detainees in Iraq and in Syria?

MR. HOFFMAN:  So on -- on the first part of that, I think that we have -- we still have -- are looking at -- at how we may respond to any type of attack on American forces anywhere in the world.  We retain the right to defend ourselves.  I don't have an update for you on anything that's being considered or evaluated but obviously if -- if something were to happen, we'll keep everybody in the press corps informed of that.

With regard to detainees, I don't -- General, I -- I know very little about the COVID-19 and our detainees.  I would have to get somebody to get back to you on that, unless the general ...

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS:  Yeah, no, I -- I -- I would say that, you know, we are continuing to take care of every one of our service members going forward.  So I have nothing on detainees, either.  You know, we're focused on taking care of our U.S. service members and our allies and partners going forward.  So I -- I don't have anything more on that.

MR. HOFFMAN:  Yeah so sorry -- sorry.  We'll -- we'll get somebody from CENTCOM in touch with you to -- to address that question.  Thank you, guys.

Q:  Thank you.