Transcript

Defense Department Senior Leaders Brief Reporters on DOD Efforts Regarding COVID-19

April 14, 2020
Dr. Mark T. Esper, Secretary of Defense, and Army GEN Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DR. MARK T. ESPER: OK, well, good afternoon to everyone. Let me begin by expressing my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the sailor from the USS Theodore Roosevelt who lost his battle with COVID-19 yesterday. He was the first active-duty service member to pass from the coronavirus, and we join his loved ones in grieving this loss.

Our service members have been in harm's way every day since the beginning of the fight against the coronavirus. As you know, the U.S. military first faced COVID-19 on January 29th, when hundreds of American citizens were evacuated from Wuhan, China, and quarantined at March Air Reserve Base in California.

Since then, we have been doing everything in our power to protect our personnel, their families, and the American people during this challenging time. I'd like to provide an update now on the department's support to the president's whole-of-nation response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 50,000 service members are currently deployed across the United States, working tirelessly to help protect the American people. We continue to stay ahead of and remain responsive to the requests of state and local authorities so that we meet the need as the situation changes around the country.

Our most important resource in this fight continues to be the brave men and women of the United States military. To date, we have deployed over 4,000 doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel across all components, to bolster the capacity of some of the nation's most severely affected areas.

I've had numerous conversations with both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio as we continue to surge resources into New York City and make adjustments to our operations. We have provided over 2,100 medical personnel to support the city, including over 300 who are working in 11 different civilian hospitals to reinforce New York's own medical staff.

While much of the work has been understandably focused on New York, we are pivoting to ensure that other hotspots around the country are receiving the support they need. To date, I've spoken to over 20 governors to discuss how the Department of Defense can best support them. And this afternoon, I will be speaking to the governor of Guam, who's been incredibly supportive of our sailors and the Teddy Roosevelt in Guam.

We are currently deploying 14 Army Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces to priority regions. Six of those are allocated to New York, three to New Jersey, two to Massachusetts, one to Connecticut, one to Michigan, and one to Pennsylvania. Our Navy Expeditionary Medical Facilities in New Orleans and Dallas are fully established and accepting patients.

Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers remains very busy, with more than 15,000 personnel engaged across the country. The Corps is currently constructing 25 alternate care facilities that will add a total of over 15,500 beds since March in cities such as New York City, Detroit, and Chicago.

Last week, the Corps leadership met with Florida Governor DeSantis to discuss construction of a medical facility in the Miami Beach Convention Center, which would provide 450 beds.

Meanwhile, nearly 30,000 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.

Our National Guardsmen have helped construct nearly 150 alternate care facilities, providing over 83,000 extra beds for COVID-19 patients while also distributing food to local communities and medical supplies to civilian hospitals.

The department has delivered 10 million N95 masks to HHS and FEMA, and is prepared to provide 10 million more. On Friday, we received approval for our first Defense Production Act project, investing $133 million to increase domestic production of N95 masks to over 39 million in the next 90 days. This will help ensure our government has the industrial capacity to meet the nation's needs.

Additionally, we awarded a $415 million contract for 60 critical care decontamination systems, which will be able to sterilize a total of nearly 5 million N95 respirators per day. This will allow medical professionals to reuse masks up to 20 times, and will reduce the nation's need for new inventory.

Six decontamination units have already been delivered to cities that include New York, Columbus, Boston, Chicago, and Takoma, and the rest should be available by early May. More contracts for other items will be let in the coming days.

From the beginning of the outbreak, going back to January, the Department of Defense has worked hard to remain ahead of need. I want to commend General O’Shaughnessy and the entire NORTHCOM team for their exceptional efforts as they continue to spearhead the department's response to the coronavirus.

While we continue to support the whole-of-nation, whole-of-government response to this global pandemic, we continue our very important national security missions such as: performing counterterrorism missions from Africa through the Middle East to Afghanistan; conducting freedom-of-navigation operations and patrolling the high seas to ensure freedom of navigation around the globe; monitoring North Korean weapons tests; improving our defensive posture in Iraq; escorting Russian bombers out of U.S. airspace; deterring Iranian bad behavior; working with our Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and Resolute Support mission partners in Afghanistan; continuing enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility; working with our NATO allies in Europe; and continuing to defend our interests in space. In fact, last month, the Space Force launched its first satellite into orbit.

As we continue all this, we are focused on protecting our people. Yesterday, we released the eighth supplement to the department's Force Health Protection guidance to give commanders and troops even more clarity on how to confront COVID-19.

Recall that the first Force Protection guidance was issued on January 30, two days before DOD's global pandemic plans were activated, and weeks before the first American succumbed to the virus here in the United States.

We are currently working to modify and extend the department's stop movement order, restricting domestic and international travel for all DOD personnel. While I understand this has a -- the impact this has on our troops and their families, this is a necessary measure to keep our people safe and our military ready to act. We will continue to remain flexible and agile as we work to defeat this invisible enemy. It will take time, but we will get through this, and we will get through this together and stronger as a result.

I want to thank all of our service members, DOD civilians and their families for their patience, their understanding and their cooperation. I want to especially thank and express my pride in all of our people who are on the front lines of this fight. Please take care of yourselves, and please take care of one another.

Thank you, and I'll turn it over to now to Chairman Milley for his comments.

CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF MARK A. MILLEY: Let me just first express my personal deepest condolences, and on behalf of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and really, the entire American people for the loss of a sailor on the T.R. to COVID-19. A tragic loss, and our condolences go out to his family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the entire crew.

For the -- for the military, for those of us in uniform, the secretary just rattled off a lot of data, a lot of very, very important points that I hope people take to heart because the level of effort of the United States military is significant in battling this. We have an obligation to protect the American people regardless of the enemy. In this case, COVID-19 is the enemy, a virus. And as you've heard, several people, to include the president, the secretary, and others talk about this being a war. We are, in fact, at war against a virus. We are a supporting organization. We are in support of civil authorities, in this case, specifically, FEMA, and HHS, and other civil authorities to include governors and municipality leaders, et cetera. We'll continue to do that.

And at the same time that we do that, we will continue to do our mission assignments around the world, as the secretary rattled off, both in Asia, Europe, Middle East, et cetera. I can report to you that our readiness is still high, our readiness is still strong, and we are able to defer -- deter and defeat any challenges that make take -- try to take advantage of these opportunities at this -- at this point of crisis.

So I want to thank all of the troops that are out there, the 50,000 or so that are involved in the COVID-19, the 180,000 that are in 140 countries around the world right now, and the other couple million that are in uniform in some capacity in the active, Guard, and Reserve for their dedication and commitment to this country.

So with that, we'll go ahead and take your questions.

STAFF: All right, we're going to go to the phone lines first. Lita, AP?

QUESTION: First, can we ask whoever it is that is playing some sort of recording to please go on mute because we are actually -- those of us that are on the phone cannot hear what's been said in the room.

STAFF: We'll get that taken care of, Lita. We're going to go back to the room here first, and just go straight...

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that you pivot to other areas now. Can you give us a sense -- you said you talked to 20 governors, and where do you think the next areas will be? And also, early on the Pentagon said that they would be the last resort that, clearly, civilian agencies, civilians would take over the -- the brunt of this COVID virus, and now you're clearly all in with 50,000. With the Mercy seeing some of its crewmembers testing positive, is there a concern that you could see similar things in the field hospitals and other things that the military's providing?

DR. ESPER: Sure, I'll take the -- the first question first, then I'll hit the longer one.

We're looking at putting two urban Army medical task forces into Boston, for example. We're looking at deploying personnel to Miami. I mentioned some other places where we are. Chicago may be where we may move the Seattle Army field hospital from Seattle to there. But FEMA makes that decision, not us, as reminder. And there are other cities out there as well that we're just trying to lean forward into and stay ahead of. By -- by the time these cities make the news, we expect that we will already be there. That's our game plan, is to stay ahead of it. So we're looking at all cities, working very closely with FEMA and NRCC to make sure we assess that, and I talk to governors, like I said, daily, to make sure I understand what they need.

On your second point, it's a great question. So we went into this, the strategy going into this, it was a strategy that we formulated with our medical professionals that we had talked to -- at least I had talked to some governors of about, that we would go in, we would use the Corps of Engineers to -- to develop bed capacity, and then we would bring in, in the case of New York and L.A. respectively, the ships that come up to provide additional capacity and doctors. Keep in mind -- and Governor Cuomo's talked a lot about this, and he and I have talked about it, as has Mayor de Blasio -- the original thinking was we would keep those facilities COVID-free and we would handle the trauma patients, thus freeing up room in the hospitals because the hospitals have the I.C. rooms and beds and things you need to treat persons with coronavirus.

What we came to find early is that we aren't seeing trauma patients because people aren't leaving their homes. They're -- they're not getting in car wrecks -- that's a good thing -- and stuff like that. Then what we realized too -- and so we've -- we've adapted our strategy every step of the way in close coordination with state and local authorities. What we found -- it was very difficult to determine when a patient came in to either the Javits or to the -- the Comfort -- it -- it was hard to tell whether they were COVID or not.

So it -- what we -- what we -- we weren't denying patients access, but what we wanted to do is at least divide the ship up. So we kept the ship clean and -- and one not clean, one side not clean. But we see the -- again, the strategy changed.

And I think on one hand, the success out there has been that the measures taken by the states and localities at the direction of the president -- you know, the 15 day that became the 30 day, change your practices, no gatherings of 10 or more, six feet of social distancing, things like that -- it looks like it has flattened the curve, and so we have the bed -- we -- the -- the states have the bed capacity, at least that's what we're hearing from New York when I've talked to General O'Shaughnessy. They have the bed capacity, but what's obviously become straight -- strained, stressed, are these hard-working nurses and doctors and respiratory therapists and everybody who've been at this now for weeks and they're getting burned out and worn down, and they're being attritted to the coronavirus themselves.

And so that's where we've now pivoted in the last week or so, to move our doctors, and we're doing that now. We're moving off the Comfort, our doctors, a portion of our doctors, and putting them into the New York City hospitals to provide relief. We're looking at a -- a three-phase plan. The NORTHCOM commander talks about, on one hand you embed, which is what we're doing now. You're embedding our doctors and nurses into the hospitals alongside the civilian staff, if you will, to help them out or to provide relief.

The other one is where -- where we expand a facility and -- and so I think that Connecticut is a place where we're going in and expanding a wing of -- of a facility. And then there's the traditional model, the one we began with.

So our challenge is to keep adapting as we see -- as we see the states adapt and as they -- as they see their medical staff and their bed capacity and all these things play out. And I'd say -- I think as we go city by city we're going to see this -- the same dynamic happen.

QUESTION: So clearly, a challenge will be to keep your personnel COVID-free?

DR. ESPER: Oh, yeah, I'm sorry. You asked that. Sure, I -- look, I think we're seeing some attrition from -- at the civilian hospitals. I don't know what that number is off the top of my head, but I anticipate we will see some as well, maybe not as much because as I've said, most -- for the most part, at least for our active duty forces they're fairly healthy and fit and -- and maybe a different demographic, but -- but I think we will see some attrition, and we've accounted for that.

We've been talking about that a lot internally in our -- in our -- the meetings we have about, what is our attrition over time? Because as you all heard me stand up here before and say, I -- I -- I told you weeks ago, I think we will be moving to city, to city, to city as this moves, and we're now seeing it move. And our challenge, what we have, we bring -- we bring the ability to quickly pick up and move not just people, but we can move equipment and hospitals to do that.

And what we try to anticipate is, as we move, do we end up leaving some behind -- doctors -- because they become infected, they've got to go into a quarantine period, et cetera. But we want to preserve the capacity as much as we can, in order to help the American people as we move around the country.

STAFF: All right, we're going to go back to the phones, so Lita.

QUESTION: Hi, yes, thanks a lot. I was wondering, General Milley, if you can take -- talk to us a little bit about the Truman. The decision was made not to bring it back into port, but to have it stay out. Do you think you're going to have to do this with more ships in order to keep them virus-free?

And can you talk about any additional discussions about calling back reserves, how many if any you've done, and are you still -- Mr. Secretary, you've talked about not wanting to do stop-loss. Are you reconsidering that? Thank you.

GEN. MILLEY: So, Lita, on the -- the Harry S. Truman, we've got about -- I think it's 90 or so U.S. naval ships at sea right now, and -- various types of ships. And the T.R., as you well know, has been sidelined temporarily, although we could get it back out to sea quickly if we had to.

But we made a decision -- the secretary made a decision and the Navy made a decision -- to keep the Harry S. Truman at sea so that we had at least two carriers at sea at a moment's notice. And we'll keep the Harry S. Truman at sea until next up, which is the Nimitz, sets sail, which we expect to set sail shortly.

So the Navy made that announcement, I believe it was yesterday. So that was a conscious deliberative operational decision in order to make sure that we had carrier strike group capability at sea at this moment of crisis.

The only significant COVID-19 issues we're having on any of the ships, at least reported up to today, was the T.R. So the other ships are, right now, that are at sea are COVID-free, at least as of the latest reports that I've got.

DR. ESPER: And, Lita, on the stop-loss question, as I said the other day, it's a last resort. If -- if we had to get to that point, it would be focused likely on medical professionals. But I don't see that as likely, quite frankly. We are seeing -- we still have some depth in our reserves.

We've actually had -- a report was sent to me today by the Army, we have retirees who are volunteering, medical professional retirees, who are actually volunteering to come back on active duty to serve. So we're seeing -- we're seeing folks that are just standing up and volunteering to help the American people. And I think we will be able to handle this pandemic with what we have now, but I also can't predict the future. So that's where we stand.

STAFF: All right, we'll go the phones - Paul, Reuters -- or Phil, Reuters?

We can't hear Phil, so back into the room. Courtney?

QUESTION: One for each of you. Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that you're going to modify the stop-movement order or how so are you going to extend it, and for how long?

And then, General Milley, SecDef said that you are continuing to monitor North Korea tests, even while all this is going on. Can you update us on what happened overnight? South Koreans said that there were a series of missiles -- maybe cruise missiles, both ground and air-launched.

And do you assess that -- what can you tell us about the timing of -- of this test? Is it because of coronavirus? Are they exploiting vulnerabilities?

DR. ESPER: So on the first part, yes, we are going to modify and extend -- modification, we want to make sure that we have a more comprehensive way in which we address exemptions. We will still allow for exceptions -- hardship, things like that that we've listed before.

I don't want to give any final dates yet. We'll probably have our undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness come in the next couple days to brief you. We're still finalizing that.

The important thing is, as this virus unfolds and as our mitigation measures take place and as testing happens, et cetera, this is something that I committed, and you'll see it also in the updated memo, that we will be reviewing this, the Joint Staff and OSD staff will be teeing this up for me, every 15 days, every two weeks, to review, to see if we can curtail it sooner or if we need to extend it further. But we want to make sure we stay on top of it.

The key thing is, again, protect our people and make sure that we are ready to act. So at this point in time, since the first -- the expiration, the first stop order -- stop-movement order expires on May 11th, we want to give our folks sufficient time to make adjustments and to socialize it with them, that we will be extended beyond that May 11th date. And so we'll be coming out -- back to you in more -- in the next couple days with more detail on that.

QUESTION: You will be extending it, just you're not announcing how...

(CROSSTALK)

DR. ESPER: Yeah, that's right. We will be extending it.

GEN. MILLEY: And on your question on the missiles, like -- like we do for any missile coming out of anywhere, we monitor it very, very closely and conduct the analysis. It usually takes a couple of days, by the way. The initial preliminary analysis, and we work closely with the ROK military, the Korean -- South Korean military on that, and I've had an opportunity to talk to Abe Abrams as well.

It's mixed right now in terms of the assessment. I don't think it's particularly provocative or -- or threatening to us, as to what happened. It may be tied to some celebrations that are happening inside North Korea, as opposed to any deliberate provocation against us. So another day or two should be clear in terms of what we pick up in the intel channels.

QUESTION: You can’t say long-range, short-range, anything?

GEN. MILLEY: Oh, no, these were short-range. These aren't any particularly big -- big missile.

STAFF: Sorry, we're going to go back to the phones, try again, see if Phil from Reuters?

Alright, back to the room. Jennifer?

QUESTION: So a quick follow-up on the T.R. Since the T.R. is the only ship that really has COVID cases, any plans to punish or hold responsible the officer that ordered that ship to go into Vietnam, or the officers that compromised that aircraft carrier?

And for both of you, do you have any evidence the virus began in a Chinese lab? And maybe was released accidentally? We have IAEA inspectors all over the world inside nuclear facilities. Is it time to have those kind of inspectors in biolabs like the one in Wuhan?

DR. ESPER: Yeah, so with regard to the T.R., as you know, the investigation was conducted at my -- my direction, it was completed last week. It's with the CNO right now. And as I'm in the chain of command, I'm not going to comment on it because I don't know where it will go or what would -- where it will take us. But I expect it will be comprehensive.

QUESTION: And with regards to the labs?

GEN. MILLEY: Yeah, so on the -- on the first one, by the way, that was -- that's going to be standard. I know everyone has a lot of questions about that on the T.R. But for the secretary and I and any other member of the chain of command, right now, that's an active, ongoing investigation, it's in the hands of the CNO.

Until such time as the CNO renders his findings of fact, circumstances, and recommendations to the secretary of defense, the chain of command needs to, as a matter of law, custom, and tradition, to be silent until such time as the outcome.

Secondly, on the -- on the lab piece, that's -- there's a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, the blog sites, et cetera. It should be no surprise to you that we've taken a keen interest in that, and we've had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that. And I would just say, at this point, it's inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But we don't know for certain.

QUESTION: And what about having inspectors in labs, biolabs? Do you think it's time to do that like you do for nuclear facilities?

DR. ESPER: I think that's something that needs to be looked at after the fact. There's going to be a -- at some point, a lessons learned, if you will, that needs to be conducted. We've already begun it, by the way, trying to capture lessons learned as -- so at some point, we can -- we can stop and look back and adjust our plans, our global pandemic campaign plans, et cetera.

I think that's probably something to be -- to take a look at. Of course, the IAEA stuff is bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that was adopted in the late 1960s, so it's connected to that. And you'd have to think through what is the international regime by which it would be bound to.

So I think that's something to put off, that’s something I would defer to the State Department to comment on, they are responsible for the treaties, assuming this would be some type of treaty mechanism. So that's something I would defer to the State Department on.

STAFF: All right, we're going to go to the phones for Tom from USA Today, and then after Tom we're going to go to Missy at the Washington Post.

So, Tom, go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'm wondering why your office approved Secretary Modly's waiver to travel to Guam, and why that was deemed to be an appropriate use of government resources, for him to use two air crews for a short stay on Guam. Thank you.

DR. ESPER: Yeah, I don't -- I don't approve trips for any of my senior leaders, it's not my practice. But I will say this much, I encourage senior leaders from all the services to travel. It's vitally important that they get out, that they visit with their troops on the ground -- soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines. They get ground truth as to what's happening out there.

I traveled a lot as secretary of the Army, and I travel a lot as secretary of Defense, just for that purpose. Many of you have traveled with me. I think it's invaluable to go out there and get that type of experience and exposure, so I support if not urge my senior leaders to go out there and travel.

STAFF: All right, we'll go to Missy, Washington Post?

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. Just a clarification and then a question. General Milley, I think you said that there were -- it didn't seem that there were any cases on any of the 90 ships at sea, other -- excluding the Roosevelt, of course.

And just to clarify, what about the other carriers? Are there any suspected or confirmed cases currently on carriers such as -- even if they're in ports such as the Nimitz and the Reagan? That's for you.

And then just for both of you, are you confident at this stage that the guidance or the parameters for that have gone down the chain regarding grooming and formation, and PT are all where they - and wearing masks, do you feel like they're where they need to be? Because, you know, we keep hearing reports of folks showing up for required activities, sometimes in ways that seem to challenge the social distancing guidelines that we hear from other parts of the government. Thanks so much.

DR. ESPER: Yeah, let's take the last question first, and I'll speak first and let the chairman chirp in. As you know, we've issued now the eighth iteration of guidance that's gone out. The first one went out January 30th to commanders, with regard to -- that first one was with regard to following CDC guidance and all the proper practices. We've issued out many others, like I said, since then over time.

Anticipating this question might come up again, I asked the commanders and our -- and the service secretaries yesterday, do you feel you have sufficient guidance from me -- and some of it's guidance, some of it's directives -- in terms of how to manage the force and best protect the force? Unequivocally, everybody said they have sufficient guidance.

And keep in mind, the guidance I give is not to some young O-3 captain or ensign or whatever, it's the guidance I give the four-star commanders or service secretaries, who have expansive staff, medical staffs, to -- can help further amplify and -- amplify and further push down to each successive level, the guidance.

So I feel that the guidance has been sufficient. They're going out, we've been very clear, we've not only put out through directives, we put it out through town halls, I put it out on social media, we've amplified it through every other type of means.

Now, the broader question is implementation. Implementation is always a challenge. We have a directive right now that says, for example, we did it last week -- face coverings. But everywhere I go -- I look in this room, not everybody has face coverings, and not everybody is necessarily six feet apart. Implementation is always a challenge, particularly in an organization that's 2.2 million people strong, that's in 140 countries around the world, that has a variety of different missions. You name it. I've talked before about how do you get six-feet distancing on a sub, or even a carrier for that matter.

So the challenge will always be implementation. So the key thing is to keep pushing it, keep talking about it, keep amplifying it so that everybody gets the word, and the commanders have -- at successive levels, as you go downward, keep pushing it out and keep filling in the blanks, implementing that guidance, based on what's happening at their organization.

But again, I think it's been sufficient. My commanders think it's been sufficient. The service secretaries think it's been sufficient, and it's completely consistent with how we've done guidance in the past on any number of things, in terms of being -- in terms of how it was delivered and the content and the formulation.

Chairman, I don't know if you want to add anything to that piece of it?

GEN. MILLEY: Yes, let me -- first, just for the record, for those watching on TV, this was measured at six feet.

DR. ESPER: We're six feet apart.

GEN. MILLEY: And I would've preferred eight, but six is what it is. And I have my mask, by the way, so -- but that's for afterwards.

So let me first say I think the guidance is sufficient, and we have relied for two and a half centuries on commanders issuing guidance and leaders issued guidance, and then subordinates executing that guidance and implementing it to standard. Do I feel confident that the chain of command, for the most part, is executing to standard? I do.

The question that you had, Missy, on the ships at sea, the reports I had -- as I mentioned up front, only the T.R. is reporting any significant amounts of COVID. We did have a single sailor -- I'm reading it right here -- one sailor on the Nimitz tested positive, but he was out of state, not yet on the Nimitz, and he remains to this day out of state.

A second sailor displayed symptoms, and that sailor was placed into isolation and is not on the ship, so that's the Nimitz. All of the other ships that are out at sea are reporting zero at this time.

Interestingly, too, is the cruiser that was -- the cruiser that was with the T.R. -- somebody asked about a port call earlier -- the cruiser that was with the T.R. in Da Nang on that port call, they report zero as well.

So we're confident right now, but let also mention that the Navy -- what the Navy is doing to implement for future deployment. So all the ship's crews are going into isolation for 14 days, and the particular emphasis, as you would imagine, on the SSGNs and the SSBNs and the subs, the sub fleet, especially the nuclear triad piece of that, and all those crews are being tested prior to setting sail, as tests become available.

We're doing the same thing with other critical components of the nuclear triad, with the ICBMs, the bomber force, high-end tier one C.T. forces, and some of our rapid deployment reserve forces. So there's a prioritization of the force for testing and quarantine to ensure that we have adequate capability and readiness to rapidly deploy if we need to for any given contingency.

STAFF: All right, back here, Megan. And then Barbara.

QUESTION: So given that many or Navy's cases come from the T.R. and so many of those T.R. sailors were asymptomatic when they were tested, have you thought about ramping up testing any more, aside from just before deployments? But if you have a squadron that has a case, testing everyone in the squadron?

DR. ESPER: Yes, you raise an important fact, so I think out of the 585 or so cases right now a little over -- only -- only a little over 213 are symptomatic. So think about that, there are people who have tested positive, over 300, who have tested -- who are just moving around, so it could be -- the same could apply for all of us, so it's -- we're understanding more about the virus as we -- as we look at the Roosevelt, and we are looking -- I think the chairman talked a little bit about -- we're looking at how do we expand testing; we're looking at our tier-one forces, our strategic forces, our deploying forces. We've had a couple of meetings on that. Right now the key is expanding the test kits, making sure that we -- and there are different types of test analyzers and all that, getting all that in place and lined up to do it, making sure, again, we have what we need to address people who are symptomatic first, but then again tiering our forces, because we have to maintain that mission readiness.

GEN. MILLEY: And we want to -- right now, capability-wise, I think it's 8,700 -- call it 9,000 or so, tests a day. Or we can test DOD in our DOD labs. We've got an objective here of getting, ramping that up to about 60,000 tests here in about 45 days or so.

So to get your point about testing, we want to -- our desire, our aspiration, is to expand testing, especially for groups that are going to be in, probably be in tighter quarters, such as sub crews, bomber crews, basic trainees, and things like that. So that's what the prioritization piece is all about. And we're going to -- hopefully we'll get after that here in the next 45 days, getting -- rapidly increasing the amounts of testing.

DR. ESPER: And the last point the chairman makes is very important. We talked before about this -- it's not just near-term readiness, right, with strategic forces or tier-one forces, but for me basic training is coming into the system, into the pipeline -- the ability to test them is important for future readiness, because those are soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines we need to go through AIT and all those things to get -- to flesh out our units, particularly high demand, low density units.

QUESTION: A super-quick follow-up, Jonathan, if I could. There's a video circulating at the barbershop at Camp Pendleton from yesterday. And the Marines, like 100, all, you know, maybe one or two feet away from each other, no face masks. Is that a situation where you might want to...

(CROSSTALK)

DR. ESPER: Thank you. I'm writing it down.

(LAUGHTER)

GEN. MILLEY: The commandant will get a call.

DR. ESPER: Commandant's going to get a call.

GEN. MILLEY: Way to go. Way to go. He'll thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

DR. ESPER: There's no doubt in my mind...

QUESTION: I hope you've seen it.

DR. ESPER: There's no doubt in my mind that you all could go to any camp, fort, base, you name it, and find somebody not following the guidance. I’m completely convinced of that.

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. MILLEY: File footage.

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. MILLEY: B roll. B roll.

(LAUGHTER)

DR. ESPER: So our challenge is to get out there and educate the chain of command. It may be -- I can't explain why, but we need to get it out there. I'm sure the commandant, if he's watching, probably is already on it. But if not, the chairman is going to give him a call and say, what is going on? What don't you guys understand?

GEN. MILLEY: Semper Fi.

DR. ESPER: If you need to, suspend haircuts, right, for whatever period of time. So that's the type of guidance we need to meet. Otherwise...

GEN. MILLEY: Don't take that as guidance yet. Don't take that as guidance yet.

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. MILLEY: A lot of ways to do haircuts.

(CROSSTALK)

DR. ESPER: But that's the type of -- that's the type of -- that's something I would not have thought of putting in the guidance is the haircut policy, right? It's stuff like that, where you find people close together, where you could find a way to do it, or not require it for a period of time.

STAFF: All right, Barbara.

QUESTION: If we have time at the end I want to know how both of you are getting haircuts.

GEN. MILLEY: You really want to know?

QUESTION: As long as I get to ask my real question.

GEN. MILLEY: It's a mirror with a thing, one of those barber kit things.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, and also for General Milley, but sir, if I could, you mentioned a little bit ago that you're going to take a look at the restrictions every 15 days or so. And right now, you said there's about a 45-day period in which you want to ramp up testing.

So first question, what is the framework of your thinking over these 15 days and the 45 days. What factors do you anticipate taking into account as you make decisions about reopening things. Will it be, because you live in communities around the country, will you work with local states and governors, the administration? Do you take independent military medical advice? What will be the framework of your thinking?

And, General Milley, I wanted to ask you as you look ahead to the future now and how the U.S. military will operate going forward, this pandemic, does it change your thinking at all about what is a national security threat? Do you go back to so-called business as usual, or do these kinds of situations, which have been literally global, change your thinking about what is a threat and how you adjust to that, sir?

DR. ESPER: So it's a very good question. We're looking at a number of factors. I think, first of all, be driven by the science, right, what do we know about the virus? How's it moving? If you go back to January, even mid to late January, people were saying, I think even WHO said, no indication of human-to-human transmission. And we now know that's now -- we know that's wrong.

We're now learning, and we talked earlier, Megan raised the fact that on the T.R., of 585 sailors only 213 were symptomatic. So that tells you things about the virus that we need to know.

So I think there's the science piece of it. There is the testing capacity. And by the way, testing capacity, in terms of whether you have it or not -- but there's the other parts of it, is do you have the antigens? That could give you some type of more clarity as to whether you had it and are no longer infectious, if you will.

So there are a number of factors to go through there. What I'm trying to do is manage the expectations of, you know, we have a 2.2 million person force, maybe a majority is married with kids. I don't know, I'd have to get the number. But there's a lot more people affected by this, people who have suspended their lives, who are anticipating a PCS move, get settled in their new communities, their new school, by August, September. We're trying to take all these factors into account. And at the same time, we've got to manage the force, because we've got force units now -- units moving around out there. So we've got families, we've got units, we've got individuals going to school. How do we balance all that out? Because they're not moving within a community; they're moving globally. And so that's another factor.

And so there's not one thing; it'll be a multitude of factors, but driven by science, by what the scientists, the doctors are telling us about how this virus moves, because protecting our people, protecting our communities, will be task No. 1.

QUESTION: Are you indicating, though, in your mind, it's at least 45 days because you want to see that testing regimen in place first?

DR. ESPER: No, there's not necessarily -- what I'm trying to say is we don't know -- we don't know how long -- how this will play out. We see in New York the governor thinks it's plateauing. We see in other states. It' moving.

What I want to make sure is I can do at least my top two missions -- protect my people and ensure the readiness of my force, and before I start moving people around and, you know, having people conduct PCS moves, I want to make sure I can do that with a high degree of confidence that I will not further spread the virus and contaminate units and communities. While all at the same time I anticipate we will continue to support the American people by being out in America's towns and cities.

QUESTION: And General Milley?

GE. MILLEY: Barbara, we're in a -- when we get on the backside of this, whenever that happens, we intend to lead an after-action review, a term you're familiar with. The military does this frequently. We hope to lead an interagency whole-of-government type after-action review. Because there's going to be lots and lots and lots of lessons learned, at the operational, logistical level, public affairs, narratives, how you deal with subs, and ships, and planes and brigades, and so on and so forth.

So there's going to be a lot of lessons from out of this. Too early right now to do that. We're -- people are collecting. We've got -- we've activated some of our lessons-learned units to do that. So we do intend to do that rigorously. Because your question about, you know, is it back to business as usual? No, I don't see that. I don't see how the effect this has had on the economy, the fact that you're sitting here all six feet apart, people wearing masks, the shutdowns, for all intents and purposes, of major metropolitan areas, the impacts that this is having overseas. There are countries out there in -- in states that are very fragile, that are in various states of civil war or they have violence internal to their societies. There's significant stress as a result of this COVID-19 virus on -- on the politics, internal politics of other countries. There's significant stress on their economies, on resources. There's a increased probability, or at least a risk of instability, significant instability in some countries.

So no, it's not going to be business as usual. We've got to take a hard look at how we as a military, we as the Department of Defense conduct operations in the future, and what we need to do in terms of to apply those lessons learned and implement them so that we can continue to be effective in a -- in a, quote/unquote, "post-COVID world" or -- or in the -- in the next part of it.

Secondly on that is all the logistics. Think about masks, gloves, ventilators, and all the supplies. We have kicked in, I think it's 10 million masks. The secretary made a decision to go ahead and distribute 10 million masks to FEMA; made available, I think it was 2 -- 2- or 3,000 ventilators; all the medical support that we're -- we're providing right now. We have to think through all of that. The Urban Augmentation Task Forces that the Army came up with, which is an innovative solution to this particular crisis. There's a -- lots and lots and lots of lessons that we have to think about in addition to just basic things like replenishing the stockpiles, bringing back some critical infrastructure and manufacturing to the United States at the strategic level that may be vulnerable, things like pharmaceuticals, some of the -- some of the medicines that people are using. A lot of these masks that you're wearing right now are manufactured overseas. Maybe we need to manufacture them in the States.

So there's a lot of lessons and implications not just for the military, not just for the uniformed military and the Department of Defense, but also for the broader whole-of-government that we need to really seriously think through in the coming months, and then implement those as -- as time goes on.

QUESTION: Where are you the most concerned about? You mentioned instability. Where are you the most concerned right now?

GEN. MILLEY: Well there's -- there's quite a few areas where we're involved in that you are very familiar with. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria come to mind right off the bat because there is, obviously, U.S. troops there. There's violence associated there. And this pandemic or this virus is taking hold in some of these societies. You've seen some of the data come out of Iran. Well you know, if -- if you look at -- Afghanistan is on one side of Iran and Iraq's on the other side. So you can extrapolate some of the data from Iran and maybe think about what effect that's happening in -- in societies like Iraq and Afghanistan.

QUESTION: In North Korea?

GEN. MILLEY: We don't have as good insight into North Korea as we would other countries, but we are convinced that they are challenged, as well.

DR. ESPER: Let me just add one thing then we'll move on, because I know we have more people asking questions. I would just say this much. You know, for -- for good reasons, much of America is focused inward, right? We're taking care of our families, our communities, our -- our cities, one another, and -- and that's good. People should.

We are still focused not just inside, but outside. Every day we get intelligence reports of what's happening out there, and I rattled off a list of things we're doing. I still have that national security mission first and foremost in my mind, along with protecting our people. So that remains our challenge in this world. There are some parts of the world that -- that claim to be unaffected, and maybe they are or they're just -- they're just not aware of how deep the problem is. But it is changing politics, societies, and we have to be really careful. We have to be vigilant these days that nobody does something dumb; that nobody tries to act out in a way that could affect our interests, our people, our country. So we're very keen. The chairman and I, all of our combatant commanders watching our respective parts of the world, our responsibilities to ensure our national security is taken care of.

STAFF: All right, we're going to go to the phones. Jack, Foreign Policy?

QUESTION: Hi. I just wanted to go back to the decision the DOD made both to deploy the Comfort and the Mercy and to set up field hospitals -- the hospitals as trauma sites earlier in this -- this process. You of course made the decision to reverse that now, and when you made that decision they were already enacting -- pretty aggressive social distancing measures that would have limited some of these trauma incidents. So was DOD aware of that at the time? And why are you deciding now to sort of move many of these personnel into local hospitals, as opposed to keeping them on site? Thanks.

DR. ESPER: Well, we're responding to what state and local authorities are calling for, in this case, New York. Again, you've to go back to where we were a few weeks ago, when the Comfort first deployed. At that point in time, New York was still moving up that curve, not knowing where the apex would be, not knowing whether the apex would be above their hospital capacity or below it. And so that's why we shipped the Comfort up there. That's why we deployed, you know, Army hospital or other units up there. That's why expanded to Javits, because they were very concerned about bed capacity.

My assessment right, now, or the governor's assessment, the mayor's assessment is that they have the capacity in terms of beds; it's the doctors that they don't have the capacity for.

So, again, they came to us and we said, sure, we -- if you don't need the beds, then we'll redeploy our doctors to your hospitals to do that.

So we're trying to be as responsive as we can. It would be foolish to be dogmatic and say, no, we're not going to -- we're just going to keep our doctors on the ship, our nurses on the ship while you have needs in your hospitals. We're trying to be as responsive as we can. And our folks leaning forward -- and want to help. They want to be there, alongside their civilian counterparts to take care of the American people.

GEN. MILLEY: In operational terms, think of fighting the enemy as the enemy presents itself. So in this case, the friendly situation with the mayors and the governors, et cetera, they put a demand signal in to the secretary and to the NORTHCOM commander, and then the virus itself and where it's affecting. And we as a military take great pride in our flexibility and adaptability.

And that's exactly what General O’Shaughnessy has done, what the secretary just previously described, about embedding doctors in civilian hospitals, about expanding civilian hospital capacity, and then literally creating new hospitals, like the Javits Center.

STAFF: OK, we'll go to the phone again for Jeff from Task and Purpose and then we'll do a couple more.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you for doing this.

Just to be clear, the video that was posted online may have been taken before April 5th, and the Marines claim now that they are using social distancing.

But I wanted to follow up on my colleague's question by asking Secretary Esper, one, do you think it's mission essential for Marines to get haircuts during a COVID pandemic? And two, have you considered consulting a lance corporal, who can tell you all of the useless things Marines do that put their lives in danger during a pandemic?

GEN. MILLEY: Let me take that for you, Mr. Secretary. First of all...

(CROSSTALK)

DR. ESPER: Jeff, what do you want me -- Jeff, what do you want? Do you want to issue instructions on haircuts? Is that what you want?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: I'd like to know whether you think it is mission essential for Marines to get a haircut during a pandemic?

DR. ESPER: Go ahead, chairman.

GEN. MILLEY: So -- yes, so whether they're Marines or soldiers or airmen or sailors, you know, discipline is a fundamental function of our force. And for many, many years, the United States military has had hair standards. And I'll let the Marines, as a service, answer your question, Jeff.

But yes, I think Marines should get haircuts, from a personal standpoint. As the son of a Navy corpsman who hit the beach at Iwo Jima with the Fourth Marine Division, it took extraordinary discipline to conquer that island, with 7,000 Marines killed in 19 or 20 days, and put a flag on Suribachi. That was a result -- that Marine victory was a result of incredible discipline of America's 911 force and the expeditionary force.

It may seem superficial to some, but getting a haircut is part of that discipline. So yes, I support the Marine Corps. I'll let the Marines answer or the commandant answer it himself, but I certainly support it.

STAFF: All right, we'll go back to the phone -- David, CBS.

QUESTION: Could you go back over the numbers on medical personnel? I thought I heard you say you've got about 4,000 medical personnel deployed right now. I assume that includes active duty and reserves, but how far into the total population of health providers are you with 4,000 deployed?

DR. ESPER: Yes, so of our total number -- we'll use doctors, for example, and then I'll let the chairman, you've got these numbers down pretty well. But like doctors, we have 13,000 in the active and Reserve components. When you start taking down the numbers for doctors, we need to man our medical treatment facilities, doctors deployed abroad, doctors deployed on ships, et cetera, et cetera, you get down to a lower number. Then you come up with what's available, either in the active or the Reserve. And you -- you know, you start getting to a much lower number.

Now let me transition and then I'll turn it over to the chairman. I think last week this time, we probably thought we had 2,000 or so, maybe 3,000, medical professionals of one shape or form -- you know, doctors, nurses, respiratory nurses, et cetera. We've called up many more people since then. So I don't know if a better track of the number, Chairman, you have -- it's probably 1,500 to 2,000 or so remaining in the force that are available for employment.

But what we're seeing right now is again, we see -- you look at Seattle, where that 250-bed hospital or so is now packed up and ready to be redeployed. So what we're seeing more is we're starting to see redeployments, and we also see volunteers coming forward. I mentioned that earlier. But in terms of depth, we probably have, I'll say another 2,000, plus or minus or so, available out there in the actives and Reserves, that could be called up if we need it. And we can dig into those numbers and give you a more accurate number.

STAFF: All right, the last question here.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I'm Jenny (inaudible) with (inaudible) of Korea.

I have two questions for you on clarification. Yesterday, the South Korean government sent coronavirus test kits to the United States. Do you have any (inaudible) for these?

And second question is, what is the United States’ response to South Korea proposed 30 percent increase of cost sharing?

DR. ESPER: Yes, I'll take the second question first and say that I'll defer to the State Department on that; they're leading the negotiations. I've certainly been involved in that to the extent that I've spoken to my counterpart. I made very clear what our position was on that. My view remains that South Korea is a close and trusted ally of ours, but they're a wealthy country. They can and should pay more to help for our mutual defense and their specific defense.

On the first question, I think we deeply appreciate supplies, assistance, et cetera that our allies gives us and that we give to them. As I spoke the other day we're -- we've done a lot with allies -- Italy, Romania, various continents, we're providing a lot of biosurveillance and other type of support. We hope to do more. I've talked -- I've spoken with many of our allies in Europe, and Asia, and elsewhere, about how we can do more. We're ramping up production. That will give us at some point here the ability to share those supplies and materials abroad.

So again, tomorrow, I'm speaking with -- you know, there's a NATO defense minister meeting that I'll be speaking at. So we're all in this together. We all need do work together and cooperate together to make sure we get through this as quickly and safely as we can, to the end state we want, back to as normal as we can.

QUESTION: Thank you.

STAFF: Thank you guys.

DR. ESPER: OK, thank y'all very much.