Transcript

Department Of Defense Press Briefing by Jonathan Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs

April 3, 2020
Jonathan Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs

JONATHAN HOFFMAN:  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone, although you guys have been getting multiple on-camera and on-record briefings today.  I know today has been a busy day. 

I thought it would be useful today to take a step back and look at the last couple of months as we've confronted COVID-19 here at the Department of Defense.  I also want to provide an update on the Department's actions to surge our personnel capabilities and equipment to fight the pandemic. 

So, we've been working this since January.  So, in late January, General Abrams at USFK was initially confronted with the novel coronavirus and made us all aware back here of the potential implication on our forces. 

On January 29th, DOD approved the first RFA in support of Americans being evacuated from Wuhan, China, and additional RFAs were approved in the days following.  The following day, the 30th, we issued the first Force Health Protection Guidance to DOD personnel around the world. 

On February 15th, the Secretary of Defense approved a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff EXORDER on DOD Response to Coronavirus.  On February 7th, we updated our Force Health Protection Guidance and advised implementing the updated -- the most up-to-date CDC health guidelines throughout the force. 

On February 9th, we stood up our crisis management team within the Joint Staff to assist NORTHCOM on their response efforts.  And on the 28th, we stood up the DOD COVID Task Force, chaired by the SECDEF -- the Deputy Secretary and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Since then, the Department's senior leadership has been meeting daily to discuss how to protect the force and support the whole of government response to COVID-19.

On March 19th, we issued domestic travel restrictions, and on the 15th we upped our Health Protection Condition to Bravo for the entire Pentagon.  We would issue -- we have issued additional Force Health Guidance, and we've issued additional RFAs.

Throughout this time, the DOD has been ahead of the curve in implementing these measures.  The following weeks brought about a flood of DOD actions to support state and locals.  I'll give you a, I’m going to go through a litany of things here, including some updates on additional numbers from today.

Our two Navy hospital ships, Mercy and Comfort, are docked in Los Angeles and New York respectively, and both are now treating patients.  We believe we are early to need at this time but anticipate the usage will grow in the coming days. 

Today, we changed the operating process a bit so that ambulances will now go directly to the Comfort instead of heading to a hospital for screening first.  This week, the Army deployed field and combat support hospitals to Seattle and New York, which are now able to receive patients and provide even greater urgent care support.  Additionally, the Navy's Expeditionary Medical Facilities are in the process of deploying to New Orleans and Dallas and will be fully operational over the next couple days. 

Currently, more than 400 doctors, more than 1,000 nurses, and 60 respiratory therapists are supporting the fight on the front lines at these different sites.  We have another 350 doctors, 500 nurses, and almost 100 respiratory therapists that are on the way.  Additional medical capabilities are on the way with upcoming deployments of the U.S. Navy Expeditionary Medical Facilities, and U.S. Army Urban Area Medical Task Forces. 

The Army Corps of Engineers, in close coordination with mayors and governors, currently has more than 15,000 personnel engaged in FEMA assignments to set up temporary field hospitals in the areas with the greatest need.  They built a hospital at the Javits Center in New York in just under four days, to provide further relief to local healthcare workers.  The Army Corps of Engineers completed 549 of 669 alternate care facility site assessments.  They've got eight contracts they're executing to create 9,800 beds in New York, Detroit, and Chicago, and nine contracts are pending for 6,200 beds in New York, New Jersey, Arizona, and Illinois. 

Those are the most recent numbers I have.  I know you guys had General Semonite in here a little while ago, and may have given you some additional numbers and some additional information.  Now they are developing even more facilities around the country and assessing hundreds of new sites, including buildings in Texas and Michigan, for opportunities to convert them into alternate care sites.

Meanwhile, the DOD continues to provide medical supplies to civilian hospitals and to our forward deployed troops.  Five million N95 masks have been delivered to the Department of Health and Human Services in support of state and locals.  Close to two million have already been distributed.  Another three million are in distribution points in New York.  This week, Secretary Esper approved another five million masks out of our strategic stockpile to be given to HHS for distribution.  We also transported three million testing swabs for HHS from Italy, and will make two more deliveries of at least 500,000 masks over the next few days. 

Today, nearly 20,000 National Guard troops are hard at work performing essential testing, planning, and support tasks in all 50 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia.  In Louisiana, for example, 1,200 National Guardsmen have helped deliver over 36,000 N95 masks, 1.2 million gloves, and 50,000 protective suits to testing sites throughout the state. 

But the work doesn't end there.  So far, we've conducted 11 missions to help the State Department repatriate American citizens from abroad, with several more flights planned for this week.  In light of these concerns, I'd like to make it a -- make it clear, once again, that while the U.S. military is all in to combat the coronavirus, we will smartly do whatever it takes to maintain the readiness of the force, and we will continue to provide additional support.

With our operations spanning around 400 bases around the world, in 150 countries and 50 states, we balance risks to the force every day, but we will not stand down, and we will trust our commanders to do what is best for their troops.  Rest assured that we are prepared to assist Americans, we are prepared to defend our country if necessary. 

I want to thank all the DOD personnel who are stepping up day after day in support of their communities, our mission, our country, thanking them for working tirelessly through this, in what will likely be a long and difficult coming weeks. 

So, with that, I'll be happy to take your guys' questions.  All right.  Let's see …  Jennifer? 

Q:  Oh, no, I'm not AP, Bob Burns. 

MR. HOFFMAN:  (Inaudible)

Q:  But I'll channel him. 

So, back on March 5th, we had a briefing with the chief scientist up at Walter Reed, infectious disease scientist.  And he suggested that this virus posed a low risk.  Those were the words he used.  Low risk.  Do you feel that this was -- or in hindsight, was this an intelligence failure, that the Department of Defense and the U.S. federal government did not realize how dangerous this virus was, how easily it would spread?  Was there a misunderstanding of the virus even on March 5th?

MR. HOFFMAN:  Well, I would go back and I'd -- I'm not familiar with his exact words on that, so I don't want to put words in his mouth, to presume anything. 

I think when he talks about low risk, in a military context, it would be low risk to the force and the ability of the force to continue to operate.  And I think you've heard from -- Chairman Milley has said this and the Secretary has said this, is that currently, based on what we've seen and the size of the force, and the health of the force, and our ability to get medical care, we think that right now there is a low risk to our ability to continue to do our mission. 

Does that mean there's zero risk?  No.  Does that mean that there will not be difficulties?  No.  But I think that's generally where it came from, is the perception that we will still be able to maintain our readiness.  Our strategic assets will still be able to be active.  We'll be able to deploy forces around the world. 

And just to take you around the world right now, even in -- in U.S. Forces Korea, where one of the first places that were hit and where General Abrams took extreme action to protect his forces, they were still flying sorties.  They were still doing maneuvering.  They were still doing -- at the rifle range, they were still doing training.  They were still prepared to fight. 

So, to that aspect, yes, there's risk, but the risk to our ability to continue to do our mission has been assessed as low.  And I don't disagree with that. 

Q:  Just to follow up about risk, will part of the investigation, the Navy investigation into Captain Crozier, will it include who authorized the port visit to Vietnam, the five-day port visit, March 5th to the 9th, in which almost 5,000 sailors went ashore and most likely became infected with COVID-19? 

MR. HOFFMAN:  Well, and I don't want to presume where COVID-19 that got onto the Teddy Roosevelt came from.  I think yesterday the -- either the CNO or the SECNAV mentioned that there are a number of possibilities, so I don't want to presume that.  I'm not going to get in front of their investigation into it, and so I'd have to refer you to the Department of the Navy as they look into -- into the circumstances surrounding that, so.

All right, I'll stick here in the room and we'll just go around. 

Meghan?

Q:  So this conversation about military readiness and the amount of risk you guys are willing to take, where is your assessment right now in terms of how much you're willing to scale back on some operations, including, like, basic training, with the risk that you could still continue infecting more and more troops versus the assessment of long-term, how all this is going to affect readiness after it's all over?

MR. HOFFMAN:  Yeah, I would say that that is -- that is a large part of the conversations that take place every day here, is we've been working up a risk -- a risk ladder since day one on this, and trying to identify how risky certain activities are given the spread of the virus and balancing that with both our need to continue with our -- our national security missions, as well as our need to continue with these -- these support missions.

And we can talk a little bit more about some of the treatment activities we're doing and how that works into that calculus, but with regard to training, for example, that's something that we're -- we've been having meetings about basically daily for the last couple weeks.

And each of the services have adopted similar paths forward on how they're going to look at that.  They've either reduced the throughput, they've -- included additional distancing, they're doing testing on the way in, testing on the way out. 

But we have to look at long term, if we were to say -- some people suggested maybe we should just stop training.  If we stop training, our training facilities have a certain throughput, and if we stop training completely, that throughput is gone.  And you don't get that back.  You either have to scale up your training in the future to make up for that, or you just never make up for it.

And so it has a long-term impact.  And it's not just an impact now, it's an impact for years, as those people flow into -- into the intermediate training and advance through their careers.  And then also people on the back end who were in those fields that they're supposed to fill that then may be moving on.  We may have to take additional action to make sure we don't lose those fields, those capabilities and the personnel in those fields.  So every day, we're looking at what it is, and what the assessment is. 

And we've been very careful to say that there's no bright lines, things we won't consider, there's things we won't do because we're going to -- every day, we're going to get up and we're going to look at where the virus is, we're going to look at how it's impacting the Department of Defense, and we're going to make decisions to balance what the risk is, what missions we need to accomplish that day, and what the impact is going to be long-term.

Q:  By not slowing things down, do you risk maybe prolonging the amount of time that coronavirus is circulating among troops, and creating more -- more places where there are a lot of troops out for two weeks at a time as it seems to be...

MR. HOFFMAN:  Well, I would argue that we have looked at that, and we have slowed certain things down.  We’ve put in a stop movement order globally.  We've stopped -- we stopped domestic travel, we stopped international travel.  These were steps we took weeks ago, in going through.  We stopped exercises, we stopped deploying people for DEFENDER -- DEFENDER-20, and we stopped African Lion, we stopped a number of different exercises.

So we -- we did slow down.  We -- on certain things, we pulled back and -- and decided that, for now, that the risk from those activities was -- was greater than the reward.  And that the risks may be short-term, but that that way we would be able to hopefully get back to full operational capability more quickly.

So I would -- I would quibble with the argument that we haven't already taken steps to -- with that eye to the long-term solutions, long-term impact.

Ryan?

Q:  Thanks, sir.  About two weeks ago, the secretary offered up three kind of key items to help support the coronavirus response.  You touched on the N95 masks, and thanks for the update on that.  The other two items he said -- talked about were the respirators, he offered about 2,000. It's kind of -- is have any of those respirators made it out into any hospitals?

And then he also pledged DOD labs to help alleviate some of the burden on testing.  Has DOD done any civilian testing on labs?

MR. HOFFMAN:  So I'll start with the respirators.  So initially, we offered up 2,000...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. HOFFMAN:  ... ventilators, sorry, you're correct, 2,000 ventilators.  These are deployable ventilators that we had in our stock.  The caveat with that 2,000 was, a number of those -- and I think the number's about a thousand, I mean, it's like 890 of them -- would have to be deployed with the Comfort, the Mercy, the field hospitals.  They were the resources, they were the equipment for those.

So -- if we didn't deploy those assets, all 2,000.  But since we've started to deploy, we've drawn down some of those.  So I believe -- I think we gave the numbers out the other day, the Comfort and the Mercy -- between the Comfort, the Mercy, and a couple of field hospitals, it was about 400 of them, had to go to those.  We've now started to deploy additional field hospitals, so that will draw down that number a little bit.

The remaining number, that additional thousand, have been offered up to HHS.  My understanding from HHS -- and I don't want to speak for them, but they have a stockpile, I believe it's somewhere under 10,000 right now, they're drawing down as they issue and ship those out to hospitals around -- around the country.  And they're drawing down from those.

Ours, as we've mentioned, they are deployable respirators.  They're not identical to hospital respirators that they're used to using, they require a little bit of additional training.  And because of that, they may not be the first choice of hospitals, of the resources they want.  And if they can get a ventilator from the -- the National Stockpile that HHS has right now, that would probably be preferable.

So what I think we expect is that HHS will work through their stockpile, get rid of everything else first before they start shipping out those remaining thousand because it's a different capability that people aren't familiar with.

And with regard to the testing, I don't have an update for you on the numbers on that, where we are.  And I can get that for you right afterwards.  I'll just say that when we made that offer, I think the testing situation nationwide was in a far different place.

And that -- while we've expanded our own testing capability -- I think we're over -- we can do 7,000-plus a day at our labs, and we've increased the number of labs to I think 20 labs that are capable of testing.  The testing capability in the civilian sector has expanded exponentially since then, and so I don't know if the demand for our labs has been as great as we expected it to be when we made that offer.  But I can get you an answer.

Q:  Thanks.

MR. HOFFMAN:  OK, Courtney?

Q:  Hi.  What's the -- can you give us the latest on the number of patients at the hospital ships, the Mercy and the Comfort, please?

MR. HOFFMAN:  I don't have -- I don't have the exact numbers right now in front of me.  I think it was a couple dozen at the Comfort; the Mercy, I think, was a little bit of a smaller number, but I'm not -- I'm not certain on that, we can get it for you.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. HOFFMAN:  And then for your follow-up, why are the numbers what they are?  Or -- OK.

Q:  No, actually, my follow-up is something separate.  Well, I guess, yeah, if you could get those for us. 

And then if there -- is there -- the continuing question.  After Secretary Esper, at the White House briefing the other day, mentioned that there's a possibility that they could take COVID patients, is there any change to their mission at this point?  Are they still doing non-COVID?

And then also, are there any reports of -- I just have to ask -- any reports of COVID patients that have made it on to either -- any of the hospital ships or any of the staff who have -- medical staff who have shown any kind of symptoms on the ships?

MR. HOFFMAN:  I don't have an answer for you on -- on the latter, to the latter question there. 

I know there's been some reporting about people taking issue with the number of patients that are currently on the Comfort and the Mercy.  We have the capability to handle more patients.  I think what is -- what we are seeing is, one, if you remember correctly, the Comfort, we got it out of the dock pretty quickly, we got it up there about a week early.

The -- the city of New York did a great job of dredging the -- so that we could get the ship in there.  The Navy did a great job of outfitting it and finishing up maintenance and we were able to get the personnel up there, so we were able to get there early.

I think the way the commander, the CEO of the Comfort described it the other day was "we were early to need".  Second piece is that the way the Comfort is plugged in up in New York is we've plugged into the city's hospital and ambulance network and so what they're, the process that they give people to the Comfort is going to another hospital first; testing them, checking them and then sending them to the Comfort.  So we've taken that step out.  So now ambulances will be able to take people straight to the Comfort; so we expect that will increase the number.

Additionally, the goal originally was for the Comfort to begin treating non-trauma patients, to take the overflow. Sorry, to take the overflow of trauma, non-COVID patients.  I think what we've seen, given the Shelter In Place Order in New York, is we've seen the number of traumas decrease; car accidents, any type of assault-type activities.  The number of patients has gone down, so the hospitals have not seen that demand as much.

Do we expect to see that go up?  Yes.  We do not believe that we're at the peak in New York by any stretch. We expect that will go up in the coming days.

To your last question was on concern of making them COVID, treat COVID patients; so we've already taken steps at the Javits Center, in New Orleans and in Dallas, where those facilities that we've built, we've already given the approval for those to be used for COVID patients.

With the Comfort and the Mercy, it's something we're looking at.  I think the Secretary said it and the Chairman has said it's something we're looking at.  I will say we are very well aware of the risks in doing that; so we've all seen what happens on some of these ships like the cruise ships where you get a number of patients.  The ships, they're mostly open bays.  They're people stacked toward the ceiling in litters.

It's not an environment built for handling infectious diseases in mass.  And so our concerns are a couple. One is keeping the spread from other non-COVID patients on the ship; that would be very difficult.  Two.  Our expectation has always been that the Comfort and the Mercy would go to the areas of greatest need. And then as the wave passes, so New York be on the front of this wave, that maybe the Comfort and Mercy are needed somewhere else.  Maybe they're needed in Miami or New Orleans or somewhere else on the East Coast and maybe the Mercy is needed somewhere else and it moves.

If we open it up to COVID patients, the likelihood of infection of our doctors goes up.  We're aware of that risk and taking that into account.  The likelihood of having to empty the ship out at some point and do an extensive deep cleaning that could take days or longer goes up.  And therefore that may reduce our ability to use this in the future.  And so all that's being looked at.

As we said from the start of this process of -- the Department of Defense is not saying no to anything.  We're just making sure all of our decisions are risk-informed and that's what we're doing with the ships right now, so.

STAFF: Okay, we'll go to the phone lines now. We'll start with Jeff Schogol.

Q: Thank you and for the love of God, whoever is breathing into the phone, please put your phone on mute. Thank you.

Mr. Hoffman, do you have confidence in Admiral Davidson, the head of Pacific Command, who is behind the planning and the order for the Theodore Roosevelt to visit Da Nang? I'm sorry, does Secretary Esper have confidence in Admiral Davidson, thank you.

 MR. HOFFMAN: I'm not going to weigh in on that issue. I believe Admiral Davidson has the, is the Commander of the Pacific Fleet and has the confidence of the Secretary of the Navy and is going to remain and is remaining as the head of that position.  I've not heard anything otherwise or in any way give me any concern in stating that.

STAFF:  All right.  We'll go to Tara.

Q:  Well, Davidson -- Hello?  Do you have any information that Admiral Davidson ordered the ship to dock at Da Nang over Captain Crozier's objections?

MR. HOFFMAN:  I've not heard that. I've not heard that information.  I would have to refer you to the Navy on that.        

Tara Copp, McClatchy?

Q:  Thanks.  Just repeat the request whoever’s on the phone breathing like we're missing quotes here.  So please stop.

Anyways.  I was just wondering if the Department is considering a more widespread policy change to allow the West Coast field hospitals and the Mercy to similarly treat COVID patients?  Thanks.

MR. HOFFMAN:  I think my answer to Courtney's question stands on that and it's something we're looking at.  Right now, those facilities I mentioned are going to be opened up to COVID patients.  We're going to continue to look at the Mercy, the Comfort and the field hospitals.  But as you guys have heard before, the field hospitals, they're tents; they're giant tents, with people set up one to the next.  So our ability to control the spread of an infectious disease in that environment is incredibly limited and therefore a decision to open those up to COVID patients would have to be risk-informed, but it's something that we would look at.

One of the things we are looking forward to and optimistic on is the ability to do rapid testing.  So as rapid testing comes online and we're able to test patients quickly, and identify whether a patient does or does not have COVID-19, it will allow us to decide more quickly and better which area they should go to if they are a trauma patient.  So we'll be looking into that as it comes online in the coming days -- but this is something we'll continue to look at.

But right now we're focused on working with the Army Corps of Engineers in helping these communities build up hospitals and build up treatment centers that can handle COVID patients.

Q: And then secondly, is there any sense that maybe the worst is over for Seattle or Washington or they've managed to flatten the curve and so maybe the military's resources might be better used in other regions where hot spots are popping up?

MR. HOFFMAN:  We are taking our guidance on where our resources are best used from FEMA and HHS. They're in contact with governors and mayors.  The Secretary's having conversations with governors every day about this and we're trying to make the best-informed decisions we can on where our resources will do the best good.

I haven’t -- I'm not aware of anyone who believes that our personnel will not of be of use in the Seattle area at this time.  But that's something we'll continue to look at.  And if HHS and FEMA reach a decision that these resources are better used in another community, we will, our hope is that we will be able to move people around, and that we'll be able to go from one community to the next.

STAFF:  Okay.  Tony Capaccio?

Q:  Hi, John.  Can we try the Comfort question again?  General Milley on Fox News a little while ago said that the Pentagon is reassessing letting COVID patients on the Comfort, can you flesh that out a little bit?  Is there serious consideration of that?  Or you've laid out a lot of caveats against it, so where does it stand?

MR. HOFFMAN:  Fully aware of the Chairman's comments.  I think his comments align completely with mine and this is something that we're looking at.  It's something we look at every day as to whether we need to open up additional resources to treating COVID patients.  We made the decision today to open up the Javits Center and the two facilities in Dallas and in New Orleans to COVID patients.

We made the decision today to allow patients to be taken straight to the Comfort versus waiting for a COVID test at a hospital and then being transported.  So we're making these decisions every day and I don’t believe I was putting caveats, I was just saying there's a process for this and we're looking at it every day and as the Chairman said, we're reassessing it and at this time we haven't made a determination that we need to do that, but we're looking at it every day.

Q: -- to FEMA, has asked the Pentagon to possibly provide 100,000 body bags as a mission assignment; very grim, I realize that as a question.  But where is the Pentagon right now in terms of meeting that requirement?

MR. HOFFMAN:  Look, that's, the Department of Defense has a lot of existing contractual relationships that we are able to leverage in times of crisis.  Unfortunately this is one of those contracting relationships we have and FEMA has asked us to reach out to a vendor and begin that process.  I don't have an update for you of where we are in that process, but I know that that's begun.

So we're going to the next, Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q:  Hey there.  Thanks.  So real quick.  I know you said that the Secretary has confidence, I think you said the Secretary has confidence in Davidson with the Navy Secretary, but my question is, does the Secretary have confidence in his Acting Navy Secretary, given all the outpour over this whole thing?

And then secondly, did the Secretary sign off on the firing of the commander of the carrier?  Thanks.

MR. HOFFMAN:  So, based on the Secretary of Navy informed me, the Secretary of Defense, that he had lost confidence in the captain of the Teddy Roosevelt.  The Secretary of Defense supported the Secretary of the Navy's decision to remove him.

Q:  Thanks.  And then on whether he has confidence in the Acting Secretary of the Navy?

MR. HOFFMAN:  He does.

Q:  Okay.  We'll go to the next question.  Silvie, AFP?

QUESTION:  Hello.  Thank you.  I would like to ask a question about the operations.  Are you still executing counterterrorism missions in the world?  In Syria for example, or in Iraq?  And in Afghanistan, against Al Qaeda.

MR. HOFFMAN:  Sylvie, I can try to get you an update on different places on that.  Broadly, the commanders in certain locations have adjusted their operational schedules based on what they believe is the risk to their forces.  There has not been a worldwide stop in our operations, though.  We are still performing counternarcotics missions.  We're still performing counterterrorism missions.  We're still patrolling against our global adversaries; all of that is still taking place.

Q:  Yeah, I understand that, but for an example, we receive regularly photos from CENTCOM about their operations.  And they are all very old.  From February, early March; there is not one photo or one, you know, video of any operations since early March.

MR. HOFFMAN:  Can follow up with CENTCOM for you on that.  I'm not familiar on the photos that they've been sending you on that.  But I can reach out to them for you.

All right.  We'll go next to Missy Ryan.

Q:  Hi.  Thank you.  Just to clarify or build on some of the questions about the firing of the C.O. of the Roosevelt.

So Esper supported the decision, but was it the position of Esper and of the Pentagon that the steps that have been taken to address the threat or the outbreak of the Coronavirus on the ship prior to the letter that Captain Crozier sent were adequate, and I guess another way to ask that would be to, does the Pentagon think that his alarm was unwarranted?

And then I also just want to clarify one thing.  Can you clarify for the members of the DOD Press Corps, what the policy is regarding people from DOD Senior Staff, senior officials, military and civilian testing positive; how are you guys planning to navigate and deal with talking about that or not talking about that? Thanks.

MR. HOFFMAN:  On the first one, I'm not going to offer any opinion into the situation on the Roosevelt and in the communications that took place and where we are today on that. I'm going to refer you to the Navy. This is something that they've been – they have a good grasp on and can provide information for you on.

I know that the Vice Chairman, I'm sorry, the Vice CNO, Admiral Burke, is going to be looking into the situation about -- particularly the communications between the captain, the strike group commander and his chain of command, as well as the timeline of steps that were taken to support the Roosevelt.

I'm aware that there were steps in place prior to the letter and that the Navy was taking tremendous action in an effort to get that ship into port and get people off of it.  But I'm going to refer you to the Navy at this point.

On your second question, with regard to the reporting of senior officials -- I'll just say right now, I'm not aware of any bright line rule on that, that we have in place.  Fortunately, it's not something we've had to articulate.  But we would, in an effort to be respectful of people's privacy with regard to illnesses and infection, we would take that into account.  But as well as balancing out what the public's need to know who is running the military at any given time.

And so we would obviously fall on the side of transparency with that.  But I don't have a bright line rule for you on at what level does that come up to or what rank or whomever that is at this time.

Q:  Okay, thanks.

MR. HOFFMAN:  David Martin, CBS.

Q: From some of the early briefings on -- we've been told that the military has a limited supply of doctors who can, and other medical personnel that can assign to all these hospitals that are being set up.  So -- and that going for the Reserves as well, since they'd have to be taken out of civilian medical jobs.

So my question is basically, how low are you getting on deployable doctors and other medical personnel?

MR. HOFFMAN:  So I can probably, the better person to answer that would be General Friedrichs and so I can try to get him to get you a better answer.  I'll give you the broad answer on it, David.  And that is, is we at the department, and the Secretary has put a number of different units on Prepared to Deploy Orders or has already issued orders for them to deploy.  And I'm looking at a list here of, you know, 15 Urban Area Medical Task Forces from the Army, medical specialists from the Air Force and the Navy, Expeditionary Medical Facilities from the Navy.  We're moving through our active duty components right now, and our active duty units that we can use that with.  We've begun to put reserve units on a -- on notice that they may be necessary going forward.  And we're working through that. 

We still have capability.  We're looking for volunteers that maybe are in the Reserves and are in the Guard that are looking to come up and have them in place in orders in their local communities.  And we're working through that.  We still have capacity, but we are -- we're definitely leaning into the resources we have, to get them out quickly. 

Q:  You still have capacity in the active duty forces?

MR. HOFFMAN:  We do have capacity in the active duty forces.  I can get you a better number on that.  But you've got to always take into account, as well, that we have active duty forces that are at current medical treatment facilities. 

And so, our current medical treatment facilities around the country are responsible for treating -- they're the primary care physicians and the initial point of care for more than three million servicemembers and their families and dependents.  And so, if we start pulling people out of those, that active component, we start draining our capability to take care of them.

So, that's all being taken advantage of.  We have additional people, but they are performing other duties right now.  All right.  We'll go to Carla Babb.

Q:  Hey Jonathan, thank you for doing this.  Two quick questions.  The first General Hyten last Friday told us that Chicago, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida, those are the places that the military was forward-looking as the next focus.  We know though that now that we're a week beyond that, where is the military looking at now for the next hotspot that it wants to focus on bringing help to?

And then my second question would be, on the Comfort again, just after hearing everything that you said, you know, we're aware of the risks to the doctors, the likelihood of the infection goes up, we know that that ship is not geared toward stopping the spread, so it seems to me that the doctors there would be at a greater risk if those patients came in than if they were to use -- utilize formal hospitals.  But why hasn't that been ruled out as an option, bringing in those COVID patients to the Mercy and the Comfort?

MR. HOFFMAN:  So to your first question -- sorry, I lost track on the first one, focusing on the second one.  What was the first one again?

Q:  The first one, General Hyten had said Chicago, Lousiana, Michigan, Florida, where they were looking at, this was a week ago today.  So now that we're at this Friday, where is the military looking at beyond that as the next hotspot where they're going to send help to?

MR. HOFFMAN:  And so I think you guys just got a briefing from General Semonite. And so if you look at the capabilities the department is bringing is – I think he’s broken it down into three S's.  So there are supplies, there are sites, and there are service members who are working in hospitals in those facilities.

Supplies, we've handed that off mostly to FEMA and to HHS, for them to focus on where those locations are.  The personnel issue, we can move around a little bit more rapidly.  The sites is the one where I think you can see that most forward-looking.  But I think he gave the timeline of three weeks to build a hospital.

So he likely has the best outlook at to where the next hotspots are.  And so I believe in his briefing for you guys he had his hotspot map that laid out where he thinks those places are and where he's traveling to next.  So, I'd refer you to his briefing.  I think he's on the front edge there of where do we need to be looking to build hospitals, because that is our longest lead time asset.  It takes us far less time to get doctors or supplies somewhere than it does to actually build a hospital.  So, he's going to be the leading indicator of where we think that is next.  So, I would defer to his judgment and what he's been looking at.  And I believe he briefed you guys on that a little while ago.

And then, with regard to the Comfort and the Mercy, the risk on -- of transmission on the Comfort or Mercy -- we're looking to provide our personnel where we can.  But the possibility of sending our doctors into hospitals is something we're looking at.  But, like I said, it's a balance.  We've got to have beds.  We've got to have doctors.  We've got to have supplies.  We're looking at all of those. And the Comfort brings beds and it brings doctors.  And so, we could move the doctors into another location.  But there's still a need for beds.  So, we're looking at that.  We're trying to decide where best to put people.  And we're trying to decide how best to protect our people.  We will make a risk-informed decision, but we want to make sure that the Department of Defense is providing as much support as possible to the public throughout this crisis.  All right.  Nick Schifrin, PBS, and we'll do one more. 

Q:  Hey, Jonathan, thank you very much for doing this.  A simple, quick question at the top.  Do you have a response to the sailors who we saw on video today cheering the captain as he left the Roosevelt, and to the family members we all continue to speak to saying that the Acting Navy Secretary made a mistake? 

And then, the larger question.  You started this briefing by citing General Abrams in Korea.  Some of the critics of the Department of Defense's response to COVID have said that it hasn't been centralized enough, that people like Abrams have succeeded but others haven't.  And each commander is able to do what he or she wants.  Do you believe that there needed to be, and needs to be going forward, more centralized direction to local commanders on how to protect their service members?  Thanks. 

MR. HOFFMAN:  I'll start with that one, because that's something that has been a recurring theme that's popped up.  And it seems to be this belief that the best way for the Department of Defense to defeat COVID-19 is for us to stand down and stop operations around the world.  One, that's not going to happen.  Two, we don't believe that's necessary.  So, the Secretary has given extensive guidance to the force.  We've done a number of Force Health Protection Guidance.  I think we're on our either fourth or fifth iteration. 

And the way the Department works is we've got millions of people around the world.  We're in 400 bases in 150 countries and 50 states.  Each have different missions.  What may work in -- in a training base or in an airlift base may not work in a sub, may not work in a bomber wing, may not work in a missile silo. 

So, what the Secretary has done, and what we think has been effective and what is the way the military has worked for a long time is, he's provided guidance.  He's provided his intent.  And he's passed that on to commanders around the world and entrusting them, individuals that have been trained to lead, individuals that have taken steps throughout their careers to handle risk and to handle crises, and put it in their hands. 

And we feel like that's been incredibly effective.  It's allowed us to continue training.  It's allowed us to continue operations, it's allowed us to continue supporting state and locals through the deployments in New York City, through building hospitals.  So, the alternative of a bright line rule doesn't work in our environment.  It -- there's too many different operations.  There's too many different competing objectives.  And so, we think the system as has been put in place has been effective.  We'll continue to give guidance, and we'll continue to seek feedback. 

And I think the Secretary would agree that in some cases there may be some commanders who need a little bit more guidance than others.  And the chain of command will work that out.  But for the most part, wee feel that the process we put in place is effective.  Our people are taking the measures necessary to slow the spread.  And if our people are getting sick, they're getting the treatment they need.

So -- we're going to stick with that process, and that is the process the Secretary's adopted, and we believe is the process that's best suited for the Department of Defense. 

And then, your first question was a question on the Roosevelt.  I'm not going to weigh into the issues on the Roosevelt.  I mean, I've given you the factual answers on that.  I'm not going to weigh in any further on that.

So, we'll go to -- sorry, I said one last question.  We're going to do two more.  Luis Martinez, ABC. 

Q:  Jonathan -- Jonathan. 

Q:  Hey, it's Luis.  I'll defer to Bob on this one, and then I'll take my question after Bob. 

Q:  Jonathan, can you hear me?  Jonathan?

MR. HOFFMAN:  Yep. 

Q:  Oh.  Sorry.  Quick -- one more question on the Comfort.  Is a decision imminent or is there something that would be decided only after the Javits facility has maxed out? 

MR. HOFFMAN:  It's not imminent.  It's not preconditioned on any other outcome. It's something we're looking at on a regular basis.  It'll be made as an informed decision between the Department of Defense, HHS, FEMA, and the state and government of New York -- the state and city of New York.  We're trying to stay ahead of the curve with regard to what is happening in New York and the number of beds and help that is needed.  And we'll look at it every day and we'll make a decision when a decision needs to be made. 

Q:  Thank you. 

MR. HOFFMAN:  Luis? 

Q:  Hey, Jonathan.  Thank you.

A quick follow on the 2,000 ventilators that Secretary Esper had talked about being available a couple weeks ago.  Have they been delivered?  Are they all still in a package of 2,000 or is it a much smaller package that's now available?  And if they haven't been delivered, what is holding up that delivery? 

MR. HOFFMAN:  I'll get back to you on that, because I know -- I know a number of them were located in different places around the world, in different stockpiles we had.  So, I know that we at the Department had aggregated them in a few locations for our use, which ended up being the Comfort, the Mercy, and the field hospitals, as well as for transferring over to HHS and FEMA. 

I don't know whether they're physically in a FEMA or HHS warehouse, but I know that they've been aggregated in one place, prepared for delivery as requested by HHS and FEMA. 

Q:  My last question, Katrina Manson.

Q:  Thanks so much.  Can I ask a broader question about how preparations for biological warfare have affected and informed your effort to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, and if you can parallel your lessons learned from this? 

And a second, unrelated question, you've talked about the pressure that you have on your own doctors and, of course, as they move around the country, you may lose some to attrition, from the disease.  I don't mean they would die, but they would be infected.  And out of action, would you like to see a civilian call-up?  I know they're being called from this -- from the New York mayor.  Have you envisaged a system by which the military might lend any support to civilian doctors in any kind of doctors' draft? 

MR. HOFFMAN:  I'm not going to weigh in to a -- to a draft of doctors.  I think the Department is well-prepared from a logistics standpoint, that if there is mass volunteers of doctors from around the country and -- and there is a need to provide guidance, command and control, logistics to support the deployment of groups of volunteer doctors from around the country that the department would be well-positioned and well prepared to -- to support that effort if called upon.

With regard to your first question, I'm -- I'm going to just say that's something that is -- it's a little bit out of my -- my understanding at this point.  I can put you with somebody who probably has a better understanding of the department's history with biological training and efforts, and I can get you some more on that.

Go ahead, Jen.

Q:  Just a quick follow-up, how many sailors have actually disembarked from the Roosevelt, and where are they staying?

MR. HOFFMAN:  I was actually going to read that to you.  As of today, 41 percent of the TR crew have tested for COVID-19, with 137 positive cases so far.  This evening 400 more sailors that tested negative will move into Guam hotels for quarantine bringing --  that number's not correct.  I think we're somewhere close to -- let me get you that number.  I believe the number is close to 2,500 are already off.  The goal is to have a total of 2,700 off the ship by this evening.  So let's -- I'll get you that final number.  As testing continues the ship will keep enough sailors onboard to maintain essential services and sanitize the ship in port.  There continue to be zero hospitalizations.

OK. With that guys, thank you.  Have a great weekend.  Stay healthy.  I will be spending time – it’s my son's fourth birthday, so we will be hanging out in our neighborhood, waving to our neighbors from across the alley and celebrating a birthday. 

So all right, guys, take care.