Transcript

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Deputy Assistant to the Secretary for Media Affairs Farah and Joint Staff Surgeon Brigadier General Friedrichs

March 25, 2020
Alyssa Farah, Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Media Affairs; Air Force Brigadier General Paul Friedrichs, Joint Staff Surgeon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff

DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ALYSSA FARAH: Well, good afternoon. Thank you for being here today.

I want to share a couple updates with you on the DOD COVID response, and then Dr. Friedrichs and I will take your questions.

Today, the Secretary of Defense issued guidance to raise the HPCON level to Charlie at all DOD installations globally. The department will take every step necessary to ensure the wellness of our service members, civilians, and families. Further guidance as it relates to the safety and health of our workforce will be coming soon.

Yesterday, Secretary Esper, General Milley, and the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman hosted a virtual global town hall for service members and their families serving abroad and across the country. The secretary emphasized his top three priorities: protecting service members and their families; safeguarding national security missions and capabilities; and supporting the interagency's whole-of-government approach to combating COVID-19. The panel answered questions from service members on the DOD travel guidance, how to stay safe during this outbreak, where to get accurate, correct information, and to look to commanders and senior enlisted leaders for specific guidance.

In addition to the secretary's first priority, protecting service members and their families, we are continuing to support the third line of effort: supporting the whole-of-government approach. Today, over 9,000 National Guard members are currently mobilized in 54 states, territories, and Washington, D.C., working in support of state and local authorities.

As the secretary has stated several times this week, this is not martial law. The governors are working with the National Guard to mobilize troops as needed under Title 32 status, which provides federal resources with state management. This allows each state to manage their response efforts appropriately for their state's needs.

In addition, as the president and secretary announced this week, the hospital ship Mercy has deployed to Los Angeles to help with the COVID response, and is now expected to arrive this Friday, ahead of schedule. We continue to work with FEMA and other interagency partners to assist the effort. Similar to the Mercy deployment, the hospital ship Comfort will head to New York soon.

Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers is on the ground in New York and elsewhere beginning critical work to retrofit existing buildings to provide additional hospital beds and intensive care facilities in the most severely impact regions of our country.

Additionally, DOD has offered guidance, yesterday, postponing most elective surgeries, invasive procedures and dental procedures for 60 days, to allow efforts to focus on the COVID response.

Finally, in times of crisis, it's important to be transparent and push back on false narratives. As the secretary, chairman, and senior enlisted advisor stated in their town hall yesterday, it's important to go to trusted sources for information.

Last week, the department pushed back on a false conspiracy theory being promulgated by a senior official in the Chinese Communist Party blaming U.S. Army soldiers for spreading COVID-19.

This is not the only case of misinformation and disinformation springing up during this tense period of time. While we hope nations around the globe -- allies and adversaries alike -- will come together in this moment to be transparent, the Department of Defense will not hesitate to push back on misinformation.

As the secretary announced, in the coming days DOD will launch a webpage on Defense.gov dedicated to combating misinformation around the -- around COVID-19 and the military's efforts.

With that, we will take your questions.

And we will go to Bob Burns on the phone.

Q: Thank you, this is Bob.

Alyssa, in light of the secretary's decision to raise the health protection condition to Charlie globally, I'm wondering whether he is also considering further restrictions on training. And -- or in fact is he thinking of easing any of the control measures he's taken recently, in light of the president's remarks yesterday about him wanting the country to get back toward a normalcy by -- excuse me, by Easter?

MS. FARAH: Thank you, Bob, that's a great question.

We continue to take this tremendously seriously. And while we're planning ahead and looking at the potential of where this could be, we're also dealing with the situation as we face it today.

Moving the HPCON level to Charlie means, for example, some of the measures that that entails is going to maximum telework, cancellation of large-scale meetings, taking temperatures at certain access points within buildings. Now, this will vary from installation to installation, but these are concrete measures we can be taking now to stop the spread, lower the curve.

But looking forward, I'd actually turn to General Friedrichs for what he expects.

JOINT STAFF SURGEON BRIGADIER GENERAL PAUL FRIEDRICHS: Well, thanks. And, you know, I want to stress, everybody keeps asking what's going to happen in two weeks, what's going to happen in three weeks. We don't know, and the most important thing -- I believe, and I would recommend -- is, as we step through this, we take the most appropriate precautions today for what we know is happening right now.

What we don't want to do is build either a false sense of anxiety or concern or a false sense of security. What we know right now is, this is a very significant outbreak. It's a global pandemic. What we need to do is make sure that we're minimizing contact, people are staying home when they can stay home.

And as those situations change, then we'll reassess and make the appropriate decisions based on how we minimize the risk to force and families and also preserve mission capability.

MS. FARAH: Thank you.

Barbara Starr?

Q: I want to follow up on both answers to Bob's question.

So General Friedrichs, as you stand here and you say you take it as you find it, currently, do you see any medical indications or evidence that suggests to you any easing up of restrictions is a good medical idea?

And unanswered in all of this is the key question: Why has -- you have all repeatedly said, for days -- including the secretary, including the chairman -- you trust your commanders around the world. But there is not a standard to stop, meet -- large meetings, formations, large scale training close together.

Why are you not stopping it? Why not just put a stop to it because you are seeing a rising rate every day in the ranks? You're on an upward curve, your curve's not flattening. So do you see any medical indication at this point?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So I think as we look at countries that began their outbreak earlier than the United States, we are seeing that where they've implemented measures effectively over a period of weeks to months, their curve flattened and then began to decline.

You know, our allies in Korea I think have done a very good job of responding to the outbreak. This is incredibly difficult and I don't mean to minimize it in any way but their measures have been effective and they're beginning to see now that the impact of what they've done has reduced the growth of people who -- with the infection or the growth of people who need to be hospitalized or receive ICU care.

Are we going to see that in this country? I believe we will if we're successful at implementing the measures that we've been discussing for the last several weeks --

Q: Well let me try this again. Do you see any medical evidence that indicates to you that in the coming -- but -- a month from now, Easter, you would -- you would see some beginnings of indications? Are you seeing any medical evidence, medical indications that you could ratchet back?

And since you are not flattening the curve in the U.S. military, why are you not -- why is the Secretary, the Chairman, why is there no military medical advice to them to halt these larger gatherings where multiple military people are close together?

Because again, your curve isn't flattening.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So you're correct, our curve is not flattening and that's why we went to HPCON Charlie today, which includes restrictions on large gatherings, includes additional social distancing. We're stepping through this like everyone else is and adjusting based on the data as it’s coming in and what we're seeing with our units.

So I think we have done many of the things that you've described there. It's a balancing act because at the end of the day, we -- we have to balance both the health and protection of our service members with our responsibility to this nation to continue to defend it and to deter those --

Q: -- still commander discretion?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: There is still --

MS. FARAH: There's always an --

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: There's always commander's discretion, there's always a requirement for this nation to be prepared to defend itself and our responsibility is to balance that as -- as appropriately as we can.

MS. FARAH: Thank you. Meghann Myers?

Q: So a question for General Friedrichs. The rate now per 100,000 of cases in the military is a little bit higher than just the U.S. in general. What do you attribute that to? Is that -- could that be to more testing, could that be because of some of the hot spots where troops are stationed that might be throwing off that curve? Why do you see that happening?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah, I'm honestly not sure. You know, you would think that we would see a lot of cases in Korea because that was one of the earlier hot spots but the -- our soldiers, sailors, and airmen and Marines in Korea have done a great job of implementing the measures that we've been talking about and are beginning to implement in this country and we're not seeing a lot of cases there, which first suggests that those measures worked, even in a hot spot.

Second, it suggests that part of what we may be seeing is the increasing availability of testing is helping us to identify more cases earlier in our community than perhaps in some other communities.

I think it's going to be another two or three weeks before we can really answer that question while based on getting to a -- a level where there's comparable testing around the world in different communities where we have bases.

The challenge is, you know, for our troops in Africa, for example, there's very, very little testing going on in Africa. Trying to understand what's happening in that community around our bases and compare what's happening with our troops is difficult.

Q: A quick follow up? Some of the estimates for the U.S. have said maybe half of our population, more than half will end -- the coronavirus will end up running through by the time this is over. Are you concerned about that rate happening in the military, as well? Does it look like with the way cases are going day over day, we might also get to that level?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So look, I think anybody who says that they're not concerned about a global pandemic at -- at -- would have to thoughtfully explain why they would give that answer. Of course I'm concerned. I think all of us are concerned about the fact that we're seeing a large outbreak that's impacting every country around the world.

I also think we need to be honest and very careful in framing what that means to the individuals. For our service members, we continue to leverage the best advice that the Centers for Disease Control have put out, and going back to your comment, continuing to implement those practical measures that help us balance their safety against our obligation to defend this nation.

I do believe that we are going to be successful in limiting or mitigating this outbreak. And yes, at some point we're going to look back on this and say that we did effectively stop this. To get there requires that all of us take this seriously now, it requires that all of us do those individual actions like not traveling when you don't have to, not going frankly to spring break if you don't have to.

You know, those are things that we're learning now that are really important and I -- again, I would give great credit to our allies in Korea for the way that they have embraced this. And as we're seeing now in New York and in other cities in the United States how our fellow citizens are beginning to embrace those measures.

They're difficult, they're scary, there's no question about that and they do make a difference and that's exactly what we need to do.

MS. FARAH: Absolutely. Jennifer Griffin?

Q: Sir, let me try, again, Barbara Starr's question. From a medical perspective, is it premature to ease these restrictions by Easter?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: I just got an update on modeling factors which very clearly said that they are unable to forecast beyond three weeks from the data that they had what is likely to happen because we're getting so much data and it's changing so quickly.

So I can give you, you know, from a three week perspective, based on the planning factors that we have, we think that we're going to continue to see this -- no surprise -- continue to grow. We think the best way to limit that growth or to mitigate that growth are the measures that we've been talking about.

I don't think there's a great deal of value in speculating on a particular date. And what I would ask for everyone's help with is worry about today because if we stop doing the right thing today because we think something's going to happen in four weeks, we will make this worse.

What we need to do is focus on what we individually and collectively can do today to mitigate this outbreak. And if we're successful, I would hope that in three or four weeks, yes, we'll be talking about we've made a positive difference here, we're seeing the outbreak flatten, we're seeing the number of cases going down.

That's what I would hope we would all see because we collectively, as Americans, have come together and done the right thing today. But it is a worrisome narrative -- and I've been out here every week talking with you and I've been very straightforward about this, it's a worrisome narrative when we try to say there's some reason that we should question the guidance that's -- that's being given out or there's some reason why we should pull apart a shared approach to this.

I don't think it matters what day things start to get better, what matters is what we're doing right now to mitigate this outbreak. I'm not sure how to say it any more clearly than that.

Q: And Alyssa, when was the Secretary made aware that this was a pandemic that was going to affect the continental United States and U.S. military? What did -- what actions did he immediately take but what was the timeframe in which he was made aware and why wasn't more stockpiling done, particularly in terms of ventilators, knowing what the nation was going to face?

MS. FARAH: Well, I -- I can tell you from the secretary's perspective, we have been monitoring this outbreak since early January, getting regular updates about where the virus is spreading, particularly tracking its early spread in China and how it may impact our forces in the Indo-Pacific. I don't have a clear answer on when he was given the data that it could be a pandemic. I would assume that would align with when the World Health Organization made that determination, but I'm happy to -- to get a little more precision on that.

We've taken this serious from the outset. We've been following this extremely closely since the beginning of the year, understanding that it could impact our capabilities globally if we didn't get ahead of it.

That said, we are in the business of planning in the Department of Defense. We do have strategic stockpiles to -- that have already proven themselves helpful to the degree that we've been able to commit some of those resources to helping the interagency. So while I think we're all sensitive to this time that we're in, we feel cautiously optimistic about where we are as a department. And I would say, you know, we -- we have those stockpiles in place for when things like this arise.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: And -- and I would just echo, he was informed the day that the World Health Organization announced it was a global pandemic. I mean, we -- you know, we have been updating the senior leadership every day on this. This has been something that we've been focused on, as -- as was mentioned, since I think the third week in January, when we began to get an appreciation from the limited data coming out of China of how significant this outbreak was. So we've tracked very carefully through our participation in the White House Task Force what the U.S. government's position was on it, and what the World Health Organization position was.

From a planning standpoint, when did we start building our strategic reserve for our military forces? That was about 1947, and we've been working on that ever since. As I -- I think I've shared before with you, we wrote a pandemic plan back in 2006. We update it regularly. We published a global pandemic plan in 2013. Each of the geographic combatant commands has a plan, and that's what we've been executing since January. So I think we have been looking forward.

The challenge -- and I'll keep coming back to this -- is this is a new virus. So you know, we write a plan that says, "In general, here's what we're going to do when there's a pandemic." The specifics, unfortunately, are determined by whatever that pandemic agent is, and in this case, as a completely novel virus -- that's, you know, that's where the name "novel coronavirus" came from -- what we're learning is this one is much easier to spread than some of the other organizations -- other organizations -- other organisms that we've worried about in the past and unfortunately, this is one for which our vaccines and our medical countermeasures don't work right now. That's going to continue to shape our response as we go forward, and you know, I'll go back to the earlier questions about the social interactions. Those are incredibly important right now because we don't yet have a vaccine or medical countermeasures.

In parallel with everything else that we've been doing, part of our long-term planning has been that research in building new vaccine candidates, building new medical countermeasures and testing them, and we're -- we've been leveraging the work that we've done for decades to help support that whole-of-government effort.

So please, you know, for anyone who's concerned that we waited for something bad to happen to begin doing this work, that is not true. This has been an ongoing effort for the Department of Defense for decades.

MS. FARAH: And we're going to go to the phone lines. Phil Stewart with Reuters?

Q: Hey, just a quick follow-up, then I had a -- a question. Where the -- did you say that the secretary was aware of this in early January?

And then my question was on modeling. Given the rapid rate of -- of cases within the U.S. military, can you let us know whether, you know, in the -- in the -- in the nature of full transparency and disclosure that you -- you talked about, can you let us know whether you're kind of ahead of where your models were when you started taking to the podium earlier on, or whether or not you're pretty much where you thought you'd be? Thanks.

MS. FARAH: And Phil, real quick, sorry. I should have said mid-January. I apologize for the imprecision. When we started getting public reports and briefly before then, the secretary was aware that this novel virus had spread, and we started tracking it internally as a department.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah, and you know, again, the trigger on that -- going back to an earlier comment -- the trigger that got all of our attention were the articles and the statements being made by Chinese researchers about what was happening in China. So you know, we were all monitoring that very carefully within the medical community, and we're grateful to our medical colleagues in China who attempted to be very transparent about what was happening.

So we've been following it since then and tracking it. There was an article on Lancet that came out, and other articles, and then obviously, more and more reporting once the World Health Organization was allowed to visit China. So we've been tracking that throughout and updating.

From a modeling standpoint, I think your question was, are we ahead of where we predicted? What we've been very careful about is using the modeling for planning factors. The -- the modeling right now is not predictive because the data is changing so quickly. So predictive modeling is one in which you have great confidence that your variables are not going to change significantly over time. That's not yet where we are, unfortunately.

The good news is our allies in Korea and in Italy and in Europe are sharing data very transparently with us, and we're building a much more robust database. And again, as I mentioned a little while ago, I think in another few weeks we'll have better fidelity on that data. But right now, the modeling that we're able to do is for planning, but it is not yet sufficiently firm to say that it's predictive in nature.

So we've not tried to predict that we're going to see a hotbreak -- a -- a hotspot here, or we're going to see X number there. We've used it for broad planning, like in a community if the outbreak occurs and X percent of people are infected over time, what does that mean as far as health care requirements? That's how we're using the modeling right now. Does that help to answer the question?

Q: I don't think it does, because I'm trying to figure out whether or not your modeling positioned you to be ready now, and I can't tell. I -- I -- I understand the process, but I don't understand the answer to the question.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: And you broke up a little bit. You said you don't understand if our modeling positions us for, what? I didn't -- I didn't --

Q: I understand the -- sorry about the breakup, phone lines. I understand that the -- how the process works, but I'm not sure whether I understand whether the modeling put you ahead of -- of where you need to be in terms of planning or predictions or -- or -- or not, or whether you're behind or on the mark. I can't tell. I can't tell.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah, so I don't -- I don't think we're ahead of or behind because we're not yet able to predict what's going to happen two weeks or three weeks from now. That -- you know, I -- again, I want to be very careful that I don't create a false sense of security that we've got the ability to predict what's going to happen in three weeks.

The modeling that we have is helping us to plan, so from that standpoint, I'm very comfortable that we've analyzed the communities where we have military bases. We've looked at what we think their medical requirements would be when an outbreak occurs or if an outbreak occurs in that community. Do we have enough health care resources there? Is it the right mix of health care resources? That's then allowed us to identify what medical capabilities from the military we can offer to help support the whole of government, or to support combatant commands in other parts of the world.

So you know, I feel comfortable. Perhaps that's a -- a bias on my part because I'm part of the team that's working on that, but our modeling has helped us make informed decisions. But I would be absolutely misrepresenting it if it's -- if I told you that our modeling was helping us to predict what's going to happen in three weeks in a particular location. It's just not that robust yet.

MS. FARAH: And because of the general's short time, we're going to take one more question.

Mike?

Q: I was -- most people in the military, they live in places that have at least decent-sized community hospitals, some -- or some larger hospital. But there's also a number of military people who are in very austere locations, and areas that don't have -- they're virtually, you know, absent.

What's being -- is there something being done to sort of make sure that they are not, you know, at risk for -- more than anything else (inaudible)?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah, so I think your last -- the very tail end there is the important one. Not at risk more than anywhere else. You know, we don't know where the next outbreak is going to be, so we are balancing risk like the rest of the country is.

Right now, the focus is on New York City. It's very clear that that's where the biggest outbreak is in this country. Washington, there's some data suggesting maybe they're reaching a plateau, not sure yet, data's still coming in every day.

So the approach that we've taken, as we do our modeling and as we look at where to place capabilities is based on how do we balance the immediate needs either for DOD population or, as in the case of New York, where we're sending the Comfort and two of our field hospitals, the needs of other citizens and, you know, supporting that whole-of-government approach.

But it is a balancing act, there's no question about it. You know, our health care system across the United States is not designed or sized to deal with a pandemic. And so --

Q: Can I just get one clarification from the general? Sir, I hate to -- I'll be quick. So you don't have predictive modeling --

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Correct.

Q: -- at the moment, but you have modeling that is helping you understand what you could transfer to the interagency federal government for the civilian sector health care, and what you have to plan for military communities, what you need to hold onto to make sure you have enough medical care.

So for that modeling of what you need to hold onto, are you on target with that? Is your modeling for that at least proving to be true? And what is the differential between the infection rate in civilian society and the higher rate in the military? Could you get us those numbers, however they're properly expressed in the medical community? The civilian rate and your rate.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yes, we can get you the number on what the infection rate is in the DOD population versus the civilian population, so --

Q. Today? 

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: -- I am -- I will --

Q: When you --

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: -- I'm in meetings until 18:00 today, so I'm not going to promise something that I can't deliver, but if one of us can pull that together --

MS. FARAH: We'll -- yeah, we'll do our best to get that.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: -- we'll either get it today or tomorrow.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: This modeling question, you do know half the equation, right? Because you're using it to plan what you need to care for military people.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yes. And so you know, one of the challenges -- and I think this is where you were going, sir, with your question -- is, we rely on the civilian sector for health care for our DOD population just like the rest of the country does. So we don't have hospitals around every base, we don't have a medical center in Minot, North Dakota. Haven't had a hospital there for years.

So does our modeling suggest that there's a need for hospital beds in Minot if there's an outbreak? Absolutely. But it's going to be downtown hospital beds because we don't have a hospital there.

So I'm not sure I'm understanding the question. We -- you know, we know what, based on the data that comes out every week or so, gets updated every week or so --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: What in the data is surprising you? What -- what is off the mark of what you would have expected as a medical professional?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: I -- I think what's surprising me the most is the variability in how countries have approached this, and how candidly they've shared their data.

Q: In the United States?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: In the United States, I'm not -- there's nothing in the U.S. data yet that is surprising me. From the standpoint of this is a novel infection, it is spreading through communities and the communities appear to be implementing effective countermeasures, we're early enough in this where we can't say with confidence how effective those have been.

So I -- you know, I think in three or four weeks we'll be in a better position to say, was there anything that surprised us about how this unfolded in the United States. I think our efforts early on, in February and in March, to limit how many people came into the country with coronavirus helped to delay the spread. And that was good because we were in the middle of a pretty significant flu season.

It's also good that the flu season is now tapering off as we're seeing an increase in the coronavirus cases, which gives us a little bit more flexibility in hospital capacity.

But it's hard to say that I'm surprised by something that's brand-new. You know, that's -- that's the part that, candidly, as we look at what's happening in Italy and what's happening in France and what's happening in the Republic of Korea, this is a pandemic.

This is a significant infectious disease outbreak, and it is going to be weeks, not days. It's going to take intensive measures, as we are implementing, to mitigate it. And it's difficult to be surprised by that because until we go through it, we're not going to know exactly how long it takes in any of those countries.

I would say --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: -- I just ask a quick question. You know, you talked about South Korea, how they flattened the curve. That was done through massive testing, which does not seem to be happening here because of the lack of test kits and so forth.

So walk us through the future here. How important is it for testing, so you get a sense of the universe of who is actually infected and what could be done to increase the number of test kits? I know Under Secretary Ellen Lord talked about ramping up the defense industrial base to get more of these test kits. What are you learning behind the scenes about when they can quickly ramp up testing?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah, so I think there's multiple aspects of that, and I'm going to speak to the -- the medical side of it, I'm not going to get to the supply chain side of it.

There's -- for our community in the military first, what we're really interested in -- and this goes back to a question that one of you asked at previous press conferences -- being able to do the testing in deployed environments or on a ship or in a remote area.

So right now, as we've shared with you previously, if someone has symptoms or we're worried about them in Afghanistan, we do the swabs and then we fly it to the nearest lab. We get the results back relatively quickly, but you've still got the flight time and the processing time and everything goes with that.

Very excited that last weekend, the FDA granted an emergency use authorization for a company called BioFire to begin producing a cartridge that is specific for coronavirus testing, because we have some of that equipment.

Last weekend, they granted -- or two days ago I think, they granted another emergency use authorization for another point-of-care testing made by a company called Cepheid or Cepheid, something like that.

And, again, I don't have any disclosures, I don't have any interest in these countries -- or companies, I'm just excited about the fact that they are rapidly developing testing that we can use in the field. And as that's developed, we can get it out to our forces.

Q: -- how rapidly? Do we have any sense of that, tens of thousands --

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: We do. So --

Q: -- of kits or hundreds of thousands --

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah, so at least what we're being told is that, you know, once the EUAs are granted, then they can begin to move into production. And so the -- you know, we're hearing that potentially we can begin seeing these tests for these specific machines coming out in weeks to months, not in months to years.

So that's good news. You know, we'd love to have it in January, but we didn't know that the virus was going to be this big of an issue in January.

So I think industry is doing an excellent job of stepping forward with solutions. And as they're coming out, we're purchasing them and providing them to our units.

Q: So weeks to months until there's really widespread testing?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: In a deployed environment. So we're doing the -- and I want to be clear --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: -- civilian use, as well, right?

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah, so I'm --

Q: The secretary said he can analyze 6,000 tests per day at the DOD lab --

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: In DOD, correct, right. And so we are not maximizing our capacity in our labs around the world. You know, we're not -- we're not having any tests that we're receiving that we can't run because we don't have enough capacity.

I can't speak -- you know, you'd have to ask HHS where they are on the supply chain for the entire country, or WHO for the whole world, but from our standpoint, you know, we brought 16 labs up. They are all operating, they are all performing the tests as they're receiving them. The tests take about four hours to run once they're received.

So I think within what we control within the DOD, we're able to get the samples and test them.

Is it flawless? You know, have I heard the anecdotes of "well, I went to Fort So-and-So and something happened and I didn't get my test results for two days."

You know, that breaks my heart when I hear that because that's not the norm that we're aspiring to. So I'm not going to pretend that there are not episodes now where someone is not able to get it as quickly as they would like, but I think we have very aggressively moved forward in opening up our labs and our testing capability.

And, you know, I would say if someone's aware within the DOD population where that's not happening, please let us know, because we do have the capacity to perform the testing on our population.

MS. FARAH: And I would just add -- to add, keep in mind testing is only one aspect of how we mitigate this -- the -- the risk to our forces. We are encouraged -- encouraging as soon as you're symptomatic, self-isolate. Put in practice ahead of that so -- social distancing mechanisms, be following proper hygiene patterns. We're working with the CDC guidelines, our forces are operating under those.

The goal is to not have to have many people tested, it's to catch it and to isolate it before it spreads within the force.

A perfectly fair point and we're happy to get more details, but we're not hearing widespread cases where forces are not able to get tests when they've requested them.

Q: But my question was assisting the civilian world on this.

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah, so we have not received an RFA -- you know, a request for assistance from HHS that I'm aware of.

Now again, I'm -- unfortunately, I'm spending most of my day at meetings, so if something's come in since the day started at about 5:30 this morning, I can't speak to that.

But we do have capacity in some of our labs, we've identified that to HHS. So, you know, we continue to partner with the CDC, HHS, and FEMA to support the whole-of-government effort as we're going forward --

Q: At this point, they said we don't need --

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: I -- I don't want to put words in their mouth. I -- I don't know what they've said.

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. FRIEDRICHS: But I'm not personally tracking a request for us that we've received yet.

We've certainly shared with them what our capacity is in the locations where we can do tests. I can get back to you on that to see if -- if we've received anything from them. But I'm not tracking it personally.

I have to apologize 'cause I have to get to another engagement here. Thank you all.

MS. FARAH: Thank you, guys.