Transcript

DOD Officials Brief Reporters on COVID-19 Updates and Testing

July 30, 2020
Jonathan Rath Hoffman, Assistant To The Secretary Of Defense For Public Affairs; Air Force Maj. Gen. Lee E. Payne, Defense Health Agency Assistant Director For Combat Support; Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, Medical Advisor To The Department Of Defense Coronavirus Task Force

ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JONATHAN RATH HOFFMAN: All right, good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for coming in this morning -- or this afternoon for the briefing. 

With me today is Major General Lee Payne, Assistant Director for Combat Support at the Defense Health Agency and the DOD lead for COVID-19 testing, as well as Brigadier General Paul Friedrichs, medical advisor to the coronavirus task force. In just a minute, generals Payne and Friedrichs will provide updates regarding the Department's ongoing COVID-19 efforts, both at home and abroad. 

Today, Secretary Esper is traveling to Georgia to visit the sub -- Navy submarine base at Kings Bay and to observe our nuclear missile-capable submarines, operations, and how we are keeping those efforts safe and operable in a COVID environment. He'll be meeting with senior leaders and continuing his conversations with them on -- on efforts regarding COVID, as well as diversity and inclusion.

I also want to note that today marks exactly six months since the Secretary issued the first COVID-19 related force health protection guidance on January 30th. We've come a long way since then and seen a lot of changes and obviously we're still adjusting and adapting to COVID.

So we will -- we'll get into a little bit more of what's going on but even in those six months, we have continued to fly, sail, and operate across the globe in defense of our nation and our allies while prioritizing the protection of our service members and their families, safeguarding our key national security capabilities, and supporting the whole of government response to the pandemic. With that I’ll turn it over to General Payne.

MAJOR GENERAL LEE E. PAYNE: Thank you, Mr. -- I guess we need to turn this on?

MR. HOFFMAN: Nope, you're good.

GEN. PAYNE: Thank you, Mr. Hoffman. Good afternoon to everyone here in the room and to those of you calling in. Again, I'm Major General Lee Payne. I'd like to take this opportunity to bring you up to date on some key issues concerning COVID testing within the Department of Defense.

The Department continues to work in alignment with Secretary Esper's priorities to protect the force and their families, continue to secure our national defense, and support the President's whole of nation pandemic response.

As the DOD lead of the diagnostic and testing task force, my mission is to standardize and synchronize the COVID laboratory testing across the DOD in order to mitigate risks to the force and align with those priorities.

Our team exists to help mobilize the people and the resources needed to continue to provide resources for diagnostic testing on those who present with COVID-19 symptoms, standardize testing protocols, centrally direct the medical testing supply chain, align with public health strategies, and coordinate emerging testing technologies and employ the knowledge and experience we have gained.

We strive to maintain military readiness by implementing a testing strategy based on our mission requirements. We organize testing around the four tier priorities that you all are well aware of, originally announced by the Vice Chairman in April. That priority list has given us clear guidelines to know where and when testing is needed, allowing our team to match testing supplies and equipment to meet that requirement.

In May, the Department set a goal of conducting 56,000 tests a week across all the tiers. Thanks to the tireless work of thousands in the military health system, we have met that goal, administering nearly 60,000 tests per week over the last several weeks.

We have also seen testing increase fivefold in the past three months and to date, we've conducted over 540,000 tests since January. And DOD testing capacity has expanded greatly since March. We started out with 15 labs and now have 125 DOD labs certified to test for COVID-19 around the globe, with the capability to conduct more than 200,000 tests per week.

This has been a coordinated achievement. Together with the Joint Staff, the military departments, and the combatant commands, we have all come together to solve this complex problem set. Just in the last week, the services and combatant commands were able to complete 98 percent of their projected weekly screening requirements.

And the team is bigger than just us here in the military. The Department also works in tandem with other agencies to sustain these achievements. I have weekly calls with Admiral Brett Giroir of the Department of Health and Human Services -- for instance, to synchronize data and testing inventories. We also collaborate with manufacturers directly and other industry partners to remain ahead of the game on our testing capabilities, as well as to begin to incorporate innovative and integrated technologies into our testing strategy.

I'd like to wrap up here emphasizing a couple of important points. First, we continue to manage the availability of testing supplies and equipment despite the large increase in demand for testing across the board.

Of course, we do have supply challenges, as seen everywhere in the world. That's why DOD is evaluating alternate -- alternative approaches to continue to meet diagnostic testing demands, proceed with our tier-based screening, and ensure adequate surveillance.

Those approaches include pool testing and new technologies, such as point of care antigen tests and oral swab testing. We will continue to rapidly incorporate industry innovations in order to execute the mission. 

Secondly, it's important to note that testing is only one part of the DOD's risk reduction strategy. Our testing efforts are working hand-in-glove with the foundational public health preventive measures the secretary has put in place, including quarantine, restriction of movement, personal hygiene, environmental hygiene, social distancing, and the use of the facial cloth coverings when social distancing cannot be achieved. We are confident that the consistent use of broad-spectrum risk reduction measures across the force are making and will continue to make a difference in controlling the spread of the virus. 

Somewhat encouragingly, we've seen the active-duty positive rate hold steady at about 5.3 percent over the last several weeks, even with a large increase in testing. While we are seeing increase in positive cases among the active-duty population and local communities where there's an uptick in cases, our overall positive active-duty rate is lower than the general population.

I'll conclude by saying this: We continue to learn new things about this disease each and every day, but we are agile and we adapt our strategy to protect our people. I'm confident we are doing everything we can possibly, backed by science, working in lock step with all DOD components and the interagency to enable commanders to keep their forces mission-ready to keep the DOD family safe and healthy.

I look forward to answering your questions. 

MR. HOFFMAN: General?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAUL FRIEDRICHS: Thank you very much, Mr. Hoffman, and thank you for the opportunity to be here and provide a brief medical update. As Mr. Hoffman mentioned, it is, indeed, six months to the day since the department published our initial force health protection guidance, and I think one of the key things to stress, as General Payne touched on, is we committed on January 30th, and we continue to commit as we work closely with our interagency partners and to incorporate the latest information that's come forward. That has not changed. Those basic principles of public health are still the foundation of our effort here.

But a lot has changed since that time. As the outbreak worsened in China and then spread around the world, DOD, like the rest of the world, has seen an increase in personnel who've been diagnosed with COVID-19. Despite this increase -- and I'll refer you to our defense.gov website for the exact numbers, which we update regularly there -- the cumulative number of those hospitalized is far less the number of those who have been diagnosed, and honestly, far less than what we had expected when we first began trying to understand this new disease back in January and February of this year. This is in large part due to the remarkable efforts of our public health community and our line leadership who set the example, but it's really, I think, a testimony to the individuals who embrace their responsibility to help reduce the spread.

I want to pause for just a moment, again, to offer condolences. Although I think there are many things that have gone well, there -- we are saddened and we offer condolences to the families of those who have succumbed to this disease, both within the DOD family and across the United States and around the world.

A couple of points that wanted to share here. From a data standpoint, after adjusting for the age of our force, the confirmed case rate in our active-duty service members remains slightly lower than the U.S. average in all age groups except those aged 18 to 24 years old. We believe that the slightly-increased confirmed case rate in that age group is a result of the success of General Payne and his testing task force and the services, and allowing us to test at the entry to basic training, at the exit to basic training and at many other points in an active-duty service member's career. So we think that this is a reflection of our commitment to the secretary's first priority of reducing risk to the force and protecting them as they go through performing their duties to protect and defend our nation.

In addition, we've worked hard on protecting the family of those service members and the rest of our DOD population. We've developed very detailed clinical practice guidelines which we have fielded and regularly updated, which are used both in our in-garrison facilities and at our deployed locations around the world. 

The United States Transportation Command has developed a new transportation module called the Negative Pressure Conex, or NPC, which we now use to move those who are infected with the coronavirus and require care in other locations, while protecting the service members who are on the aircraft with them.

And lastly, I'll mention that we currently have 755 military medics who were deployed to eight hospitals in California and 15 hospitals in Texas, where they're assisting their colleagues, caring for their -- caring for patients with COVID-19. 

I’ll close by saying that, you know, as I did at the beginning, the foundation of our response has been and remains both the individual and the collective commitment to these basic public health measures that we've talked about over and over again, things like social distancing, washing hands, wearing a mask. While not necessarily high-tech, they are incredibly effective, and we're grateful for the support from everyone who has embraced those in order to reduce the risk to the force and to the mission. 

I look forward to taking your questions.

MR. HOFFMAN: OK, we'll go straight to the lines. The first question from Lita from the A.P.

Q: Hi. Thank you. One quick detail from -- from the general. You mentioned after adjusting for age, you talked about the confirmed cases are lower. Can you just give us what those rates are, including for the 18 to 24 year olds? And then Jonathan, for you, two questions: number one, is General Tata still in his job, and is that nomination going forward from all that you know right now? And can you just address the question about military involvement in the vaccine, either distribution, either the Guard or NORTHCOM or whoever? Is there any plan at this point for any military involvement in that? Thank you.

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So I think for the case rates, we have broken out by multiple tiers there. What I would offer, if that's OK, Mr. Hoffman, is we'll provide them by age group going forward, rather than reading out all the numbers for the active duty and for U.S. population.

MR. HOFFMAN: OK. We can -- we can provide those to you guys. I -- I think the -- the important aspect of that is, as the general indicated, in the general population most of the testing is done by people who are symptomatic or have a -- a medical purpose. Within the Department of Defense we obviously test a much larger population based on operational necessity of people who may not be symptomatic or may not have a reason to be tested.

So onto your -- your other two questions, obviously, we -- we'll talk about the Warp Speed, and I would just remind everybody that Operation Warp Speed has a briefing scheduled for 1500 today, so we're going to try to wrap up before then just so you guys can listen in on that, as well. 

With regard to General Tata, I would just say that the chairman Inhofe's statement speaks for itself in terms of timing of his confirmation hearing. The department was looking forward to General Tata having an opportunity to share his experience and success leading large public organizations, public sector organizations, and his extensive national security experience with the committee today. We will look to the committee as to when that may change. In the meantime, General Tata will remain a senior advisor in the Office of the Secretary. So your third question was about Operation Warp Speed. When you look at Operation Warp Speed, it was created to do a few things. One, it was the research and development around creating a vaccine and therapeutics. Two was the manufacturing of that vaccine and finding a way to do that rapidly. And then third was with the distribution of it. 

General Perna was selected by the president because of his background in logistics to be the -- effectively the day to day head of Operation Warp Speed as the premier logistician in the Army and his ability to move resources, and to tap in to our manufacturing capabilities. 

And so part of what Warp Speed is doing is they're looking at what our logistics are going to be needed in the future once the vaccine is created, how are we going to distribute it? That will be a collaborative process, as much as what the military does is a collaborative process between the private sector and the military. 

I just remind many of you when we fly when we fly soldiers to warzones, oftentimes they fly in on commercial aircraft, so we work with -- the rotator flights are leased aircraft. When we ship things, we use commercial vendors as well. So it's usually a collaborative experience. 

So what Operation Warp Speed, and they can talk about this a little bit more, but what they will look to is how do we take advantage of the commercial capability of the private sector to handle things like distribution and where will either the DOD step in to help manage that process, or if necessary will DOD be required to step in and actually physically deliver items itself? 

Right now the capacity exists in the private sector and they're taking a look at what that will be, so I'll defer to OWS to look in to that or to share more on that. But they should be able to answer those questions today. 

After that I think I will go to the next question, so we'll go to Idrees from Reuters. 

Q: Thanks, Jonathan. Two quick questions, firstly about the vaccine. Where is the Pentagon, and DOD, and military in the development process of the vaccine? Is it still on schedule? 

And Jonathan, secondly, to you just following up on Lita’s question, has the secretary seen Mr. Tata's tweets that were widely seen as racist and Islamophobic, and is he OK with them or does he have an issue with those specific tweets? 

MR. HOFFMAN: So on the first question, although I have two military medical members here I'm going to refer you to Operation Warp Speed on the questions regarding vaccine development. The DOD efforts with regard to vaccine development are part of that OWS effort. They have the lead for that, they're briefing in about 25 minutes and would probably be better suited to answer that. 

With regard to the first question about General Tata, I would just point out that the General himself has stated that he does not believe or support the comments he made. He's issued a letter to the Committee retracting those statements, and so I would just say even the General does not support the comments that he had made previously. 

So, I will go to the next one, Meghann. 

Q: So first, in terms of the testing, is there -- do you guys have figures prepared of whose been asymptomatic and whose been symptomatic to kind of illustrate how the widespread testing as effected your numbers? 

MAJ. GEN. PAYNE: I would say -- thanks for the question. I would say that we don't exactly have those specific numbers in terms of what percentage are asymptomatic versus symptomatic. We're working to get those numbers by tier. 

The data is compiled from a bunch of different data sources. What I can tell you is we have -- we've been doing about 50- to 60,000 patients testing, tests each week. And about half of those or more are clinical, and many of those people are people that walk in to be tested for symptoms. There are also people who are being screened for elective surgery and those kind of things, or there are people who are being tested for contact tracing, so that's a large portion. 

And some of those, the last two groups the screening for surgeries would likely be asymptomatic. And then the rest of the tests, probably about 20,000 or more per week are asymptomatic because those are people that we're screening for mission readiness, so it gives you a little bit of an idea.

The good thing about the asymptomatic screening that we are doing though is in essence it's screening the population so we are finding people that don't know they have the disease, we're isolating them, we're doing contact tracing on those folks and they live in the community. So as part of -- we do that -- we're doing that screening for mission readiness, but it also has the added benefit, the fact of reducing disease in the population. 

Q: My other question is in terms of readiness, because hospitalization and death rates are very low, but when tens of thousands of troops are out for at least two weeks, months in some cases, what effect does that have especially as this keeps going and the numbers keep rising the way they have been through the rest of the year and until a vaccine is found? 

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So I think from the medical standpoint the good news is not everybody's been diagnosed at once, and so we've been able to mitigate that immediate impact. And part of this goes back to what General Payne was describing that as we have tested and identified people and our public health colleagues have done the contact tracing we've been able to minimize the number of outbreaks that have taken an entire unit down, or entire capability down. 

We've clearly had a couple of exceptions to that, but those have been the exceptions. In the meantime we have ships underway, we continue to deploy -- we are doing the nation's business and from the medical standpoint I think that goes back again, to the shared commitment to mitigating the risk through the individual and the unit level actions that we're taking. 

Q: General Friedrichs, earlier you said that hospitalizations were far less than we expected, can you explain why? 

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So when this disease first came out, as many of us remember, there were a lot of unknowns. And we spent some time in this room talking about the things we knew we didn't know, was it going to be seasonal or was it going to persist through the summer? Unfortunately we've learned it is persisting through the summer. 

We also didn't know if it was going to effect all ages at the same rate, or if it was going to target specific age groups. And so when we did some of our initial estimates we had to assume that it was going to effect all age groups. 

Unfortunately for the elderly we found that they are much more likely to become seriously affected by this than an 18 to 24 year old is. So as we step through what we learned from February to today we've been able to better shape our understanding of what that risk is. And I do believe that that's helped to explain a big part of why the hospitalization rate is so much lower. 

Part of it also is we've gotten much better and we're much more attuned now at every level of the organization to making those difficult decisions like changing a health protection level, and reducing activities on a base or within a community as we see an outbreak there. 

And so that's helped to cut down on the transition within our base populations so that we're not seeing as many people get sick, and then we're not seeing those who get sick going in to the hospital. 

And then the last thing that I would offer is clearly we have a lot more knowledge today about how to treat those who are infected than we did six months ago. And so that's allowing us to be more successful at treating people -- both identifying them early and then treating them earlier with different regimens than what we knew to use six months ago.

(CROSS-TALK)

MR. HOFFMAN: .. and to follow up one thing on thing on that, the -- one of the -- the items that General Friedrichs mentioned is the lack of information we had at the beginning of this and part of that -- and we've discussed it in this room and it's been discussed widely -- is that for an extended period of time, China, who saw the first outbreaks of this, were not forthcoming with significant levels of detail, access to -- to doctors, access to samples, and information that -- that would've been helpful, letting us to have a better sense of what those -- what the risk populations were so we would've had a better sense going forward.

Unfortunately, as the -- the -- the disease has spread, every country has had an unfortunate opportunity to learn on their own, but there was a window in time where we did not have that information and that -- that definitely was a detriment to understanding the path.

Q: And just to follow up on schools, the Pentagon has announced that you will be opening up all DOD schools on bases for any base that has a moderate level of COVID risk. Why are you doing that? Why is it safe to do that?

MR. HOFFMAN: I'll -- so I'll take that first and if -- and if either of you want to weigh in on that. What we're doing is we are making available that the schools can be opened based on local conditions. And so generally, if -- I mentioned this, I think, last week -- if Force Health Condition A and B are present on a base, those -- those schools would be open for in-person education for the students. If it is C or D -- and I'm -- kind of the -- the -- the split we have right now is bases between B and C -- if it's C or D, those schools will conduct classes remotely.

So we -- we've looked at that, the commanders are -- are taking a look at what their own force level -- health protection levels are, they've been given the autonomy and the -- the guidance on how to make those decisions but they're going to look at the standards we've talked about here before, which is the availability of healthcare within the area to treat outbreaks, the level of testing available, and the rate of infection in the area.

So the commanders locally will make decisions as to where they fall on that -- that ladder of -- of the force health protection levels ,but DoDEA is prepared. We believe it's important to -- to -- to make sure that the -- the kids are -- are being educated. And so we're taking those steps to -- to make the schools open and make it safe. 

I'll just say based on where we are in the force health condition levels around the world, you -- our European DoDEA schools will -- will likely be open in the green. There'll be a mix domestically and a mix in -- in the Asia theater, as well.

So -- so you'll see some change but it'll all be based on local conditions.

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS: Yeah -- no, it's all right, I think that's exactly right and the other thing I would add is that, you know, from a medical standpoint, as we have done since January 30th with our initial guidance, we've aligned very closely with the best guidance coming out of CDC and -- and our interagency partners on this.

So this is not a singular decision that we've made without consulting with others.

MR. HOFFMAN: OK. Ryan?

Q: Thank you, guys. Just to follow up briefly on that point, I mean, in a lot of communities the schools are -- are not doing in-person instruction but some of the -- the spaces in those are in Bravo. So, I mean -- I guess why do you -- it doesn't look like you're necessarily adhering to the local, you know -- you say they’re listening to the local conditions but in some states, they're saying "no in-person instruction" but DOD schools are going forward with that. Is it just because the DOD thinks it can protect students better or is it just -- is -- is it just different requirements? What -- I mean, how do you justify having a different standard than the local community?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So I think I would just offer that when a -- we'd have to look at specifics to under -- to -- to be able to answer that. I'm not aware of the situation personally, where we're differing from a local community, but that -- going back to Mr. Hoffman's point, that's exactly what commanders are empowered to do, is to make that decision with the advice of their medical leadership, who typically work very closely with the community, as well as back with us here and with the CDC.

MR. HOFFMAN: And to follow up on that, I'm -- I'm not familiar with any community where we have a base where the base is at a lower level of force health protection than the -- the general community around it would be. 

Often times, we are at a higher level -- we were -- we're at -- at -- at C when the community would be in the equivalent of Bravo. I -- I'm not familiar with places where the -- where the reverse of that is true. I'm not saying that it's not and -- and there may be a situation or two but once again, we look at our bases, our bases are part of a local community and so our -- our -- our service members are part of the local communities and so the decisions by the commanders in those areas are going to be made in consultation with the local communities and with the local health systems, with the local medical community before they make it but -- but they believe it's important, we believe it's important for the students to return to school.

The DoDEA schools are -- are some of the best in the world, they're some of the best -- they're -- they're routinely rated as some of the best in the country and so we have a commitment that we provide to our service members that while deployed or -- or while they're moving or in remote locations and basing that we'll -- we'll do everything to help take care of their kids and give them a good education.

Q: And then if I could just follow up on -- on my colleague's question, what -- what exactly is Brigadier General Tata advising on -- the Secretary on? What kind of things is he advising ... 

MR. HOFFMAN: So he's -- he's currently a senior advisor in the -- the Secretary's front office. I'm not going to get into what his specific day-to-day issues that he is working on but -- but he's in that position and plan to continue to stay in that position. All right. Jeff?

Q: Thank you. Two questions for you, Mr. Hoffman. Vanessa Guillen's family met the President at the White House and I believe the President said the Department of Justice is getting involved in the investigation. Can you say is the Defense Department coordinating with the Justice Department?

And following up on my colleague's question, since Brigadier General Tata is currently serving in the Pentagon, would it be possible he could brief us in the briefing room about his job?

MR. HOFFMAN: So on the first question, the Department has been -- I'd -- I'd direct you to the Department of the Army, they have the lead on -- on the issues surrounding the unfortunate and tragic loss of Vanessa Guillen. 

I know that the Army has directed a number of investigations, including an IG inspection at Fort Hood. I would imagine that any information that they obtain in their investigations, that they would turn it over to other federal officials, if necessary.

I don't have an -- I don't have an answer for you. I'm -- I'm not aware or -- whether that conversation's already taking place or not but we'll put you in touch with the Army on it. And at this time, I have no -- there are no plans for General Tata to -- to brief the press corps.

Q: Could I please extend him an invitation on behalf of the press corps?

MR. HOFFMAN: I'll be happy to pass that on for you.

Q: Thank you.

MR. HOFFMAN: Tom?

Q: For the generals, first of all, have you seen any clusters within the military? We had some at Bragg and of course in the T.R. Also, any increases in particular in the states where they have high COVID-positives -- Florida, Texas? 

And then finally, you mentioned the 18 to 24 year old group, some of that is due to the increase in testing. Is any of that due to 18 to 24 year olds might go to restaurants, bars, house parties? Are -- are you seeing any positive tests as a result of -- of that kind of activity?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So I think -- I'll start and then I'll turn it over to General Payne to talk about the testing piece. So are we seeing increases in communities where there's large-scale transmission? Yes, absolutely. You know, many of our service members and their families live off base.

And so if you look at Texas or Florida or California, or earlier in this outbreak in New York or Washington, we absolutely did see increases that mirrored what was happening in the community. 

I think the difference, probably because we have a younger population and a population that has a fewer, in general, fewer medical conditions is, we've not seen the hospitalization rate, and very gratefully, have not seen the same mortality rate. But yes, as a community's transmission rate has gone up, we've seen a similar increase within our population. 

To your question about whether we seem military 18 to 24-year-olds behave like 18 to 24-year-olds, I phrase that a little tongue-in-cheek, but that is part of what I was referring to earlier. I think one of the reasons why, in general, we've not seen a higher growth rate across the population is, we have implemented the health protection measures. 

We have implemented the increased testing, so we're not seeing widespread evidence that what is occurring in the 18 to 24-year-old demographic is because they're not following the rules. 

What we do believe is that is a reflection of testing those who are preparing to deploy, testing those working right going into basic training, or some of the other things that we've implemented. I'll turn over General Payne for any other comments. 

MAJ. GEN. PAYNE: No, I would just agree that where we're seeing our positive test rate rises, it's in the areas in the states and the communities where we're seeing higher positive rates. 

(CROSS-TALK)

Not particular clusters that I'm aware of. General Friedrichs? 

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So two weeks ago, we were seeing more cases in Texas, Florida and -- and California than pretty much anywhere else. The week before that, we were seeing an increased rate in cases -- rate of growth in cases in Arizona. 

All of those states have leveled off, as you've seen in national media and we've seen our incidents leveling off as well. Right now just looking at the data this morning, there were no particular hotspots that leapt out that said here we've got an unusual or unexpected cluster at this location. 

Q: And a quick one for General Payne. You said there is supply challenges. Could you expand on that?

MAJ. GEN. PAYNE: Well as we look at what's happening across the nation and the globe, we're using the same tests, we're using the same instruments and the supply chain that everyone else is using. So we -- we are experiencing the same challenges. We use some commercial laboratories and as they have had increased the demand, we've also seen those supply challenges. 

We've been, I think lucky, in the sense that we've been able -- because we were put in place on the task force, we've been able to cross level. The services are cross leveling resources within the services. We are cross leveling across the task force, we're also managing laboratory assignment. So if we see a problem area and we will shift that testing to another location to try to make sure we're meeting the mission. 

We're working directly with manufacturers each and every day, I work with Health and Human Services, where we're constantly in contact, trying to balance the resources across -- across the nation and across the DOD. 

Q: (inaudible) I'm wondering if the COVID crisis continues and vaccine use is delayed, is there any possibility through November, the presidential election will be postponed?

MR. HOFFMAN: That's not even remotely in our wheelhouse.

Q: Because the President Trump tweeted this morning.

MR. HOFFMAN: That's not even remotely in the Department of Defense's wheelhouse.

Q: So you're not positive…

MR. HOFFMAN: That's not even remotely in the Department of Defense's wheelhouse. All right. We'll go to the phones. Abraham, from Washington Examiner?

Q: Yeah, thanks for taking my call. So you talked about some supply challenges. I wonder if that's -- if you could speak to is that why we're not seeing any Defense Production Act announcements regarding reagents or increasing testing capacity? You touched on the capacity within DoD, but of course, DOD is helping nationwide effort. Can you speak to, are we going to be able to help in terms of testing capacity and nationwide effort? And then also is the tiered approach going to apply to vaccines, as well, when they become available? Thank you.

MAJ. GEN. PAYNE: So for -- on the testing capacity, we are -- can you repeat your first question? I got -- I got lost there. Let me start with -- I helped other -- other ... 

Q: Sure. I think about the -- that's been stressed as one of the most important issues that needs to be addressed. However, in the Defense Production Act announcement, reagents, testing capacity is not mentioned. Is that something that is being improved? Is there progress in that area? Is DOD going to be help -- is going to be able to help with the nationwide effort to improve capacity?

MAJ. GEN. PAYNE: Thank you. I would say DOD -- I probably -- our A&S, the Joint Acquisition Task Force, are probably the best people to ask that question but I would say that they have done the Defense Production Act actions for several -- with several manufacturers to try to increase capacity.

So we can get the specifics for you on those but we've -- we saw one just last weekend on Hologic. To help the other parts of the government, that goes through NORTHCOM and through FEMA. A mission assignment would be requested from the Department of Defense and we would be able to try to support that if we can continue to meet the DOD's mission and we had additional capacity to do so.

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS: And General Payne, maybe a -- a word or two about the R&D efforts and the partnership that our labs have been engaged in to actually test things and -- and identify testing capability?

MAJ. GEN. PAYNE: That's a great point. We're working -- we're working on -- working on pool sampling -- diagnostic testing pool sampling, we're getting our laboratories to do some of the validation tests, both for diagnostic and also for surveillance testing.

MR. HOFFMAN: Alright, we’re going to go one more to the phone lines. Lara Seligman from Politico?

Q: Hi Jonathan, thanks for doing this. I have two questions. One -- just follow up on the 18 to 24 year old range. I'm just -- I'm just confirming that the rate has slightly increased over that of the general population and that's because of the increased testing? 

So I'm just wondering why you're not using that metric for the rest of the age groups? It -- it -- it seems like you're trying to spin this as -- as a good thing but it does -- it doesn't seem like it. I don't -- just don't really understand why that -- if you have an explanation, why that age group is testing higher than the general population?

And then Jonathon, just another follow-up on -- on General Tata. Are there any efforts underway or has there been any consideration given to installing General Tata in an acting role in any other senior position? I understand you can't legally be acting policy Under Secretary but what about other positions?

MR. HOFFMAN: Go ahead.

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So I would say on the -- on the testing one -- so I -- I'm sorry if I created the perception we're not looking at the others. We are looking at all ages but that is the largest group within the military. So that -- from the standpoint of the number of people -- just the sheer number of people, that's the largest cohort within the military that we have, is, you know, the 18 to 24 year olds, and that is also because that's the largest group of people we have, the group that we're testing the most. 
So that -- the testing rates are the same across all age groups within the military but that is the largest cohort that we have.

MR. HOFFMAN: And -- and Lara, I think just to point out the point that it is the only cohort that is above the private sector. That doesn't mean that the additional testing we're doing has not changed -- increased the -- the numbers of positives in our other cohorts, it's just this is the only one where that has increased it to a point where we believe that it is higher than the private sector.

So we -- we can go into a little bit more with you with that offline but I think that's -- that's kind of the gist of that, so I wouldn't -- I wouldn't read too much into that. The -- your second question, as I said at this time, General Tata remains a senior advisor in the Office of the Secretary. I -- I have no other personnel announcements to make right now.

We'll come back to the room for one last one from Lucas and then we've got to go.

Q: Medically speaking, why is it safe for kids to go back to school?

BRIG. GEN. FRIEDRICHS: So I'm going to defer you to the CDC on that. They've done great -- they have done an absolutely wonderful job of walking through the -- the risks and the benefits and the analysis that's been done up to this point. We could spend two hours walking through that data but they've done an excellent job over there with this.

MR. HOFFMAN: And I -- I would just follow up, when we say that the kids are going back to school, they're not going back to school in the format of which they were at school in the spring or -- or the last fall, this -- this is we are obviously taking additional, social distancing, protective measures, just like we do with -- with -- with the building, with having people who are working where we're putting social distancing in place. There -- there will be measures that will be taken to -- to make that -- that environment a little bit safer.

Q: Is it the same measures that the CDC recommended for civilian schools or is it -- or are they different at all?

MR. HOFFMAN: I don't have an answer for you on that one. I think we can -- we can get back with -- get with DoDEA and get back to you on that one. 

Q: Thanks.

MR. HOFFMAN: OK. And then -- so just going to wrap up cause this Warp Speed briefing's going to take place. Just one -- one final thing that came up yesterday. I know a couple of people had asked about it, was with the OPSEC training module that was reported on. 

So although "adversaries" is a common, generic term for a person or group that opposes one's goal, it clearly has different implications when used by the military and the Department of Defense, normally pertaining to groups who oppose us militarily.

So the intent of the mandatory operational security -- the OPSEC training is to encourage our personnel to treat sensitive information appropriately, which includes staying vigilant for any efforts to obtain information by anyone without a valid need to know. This could be an individual from a foreign nation, an allied partner, an industry company, a DOD coworker, or yes, even the media.

The training course in question has been in use since at least 2010 and was last updated in 2015. It was simply shared with a wider audience following the Secretary's OPSEC memo this month. However, to avoid confusion when we're moving forward and to address the concerns presented, the Secretary has directed that we adjust the training materials to identify individuals or groups trying to obtain information simply as unauthorized recipients.

So -- OK, thanks, guys.