Top military doctor: DoD coronavirus cases likely to rise, 9 in total now

The military’s top doctor says it’s likely there are more people in the military, and associated with the Defense Department, infected with coronavirus than currently known.

DoD updates its coronavirus infection numbers daily. Currently there are three active duty service members, four military dependents, one civil servant and one contractor infected with COVID-19, a strain of the coronavirus. Six people affiliated with DoD are currently being evaluated for the disease.

Joint Staff Surgeon General Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday that it is likely that number will rise. He added there is still a lot the government does not know about the disease and how it infects other people, which is one of the reasons cases will continue to rise.

“We don’t know, we are still learning how easy it is to spread this and how many people can spread the virus before they actually have symptoms of the infection,” Friedrichs said. “The number is likely higher.”

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DoD tests for coronavirus with an initial test; if that comes back positive then the person is considered a presumptive positive. There is a second test to ensure the validity of the first.

DoD has 13 labs that are conducting tests. About 140 people have been tested for the virus in DoD labs, but the number of people who may have gotten tested outside of DoD labs is unknown.

Friedrichs said one way the disease could spread more in the military is that healthy people usually present with flu-like symptoms. It’s very possible those younger, healthier people assumed they had the flu and did not take the precautions suggested for coronavirus.

The Air Force released new guidance on its coronavirus prevention. Air Force Academy cadets are restricted from travel outside the United States until at least the end of March.

The Air Force basic training is suspending family members from attending graduation until further notice.

Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado closed its child care center because a parent tested positive for the virus.

The Air Force also canceled its events at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin. Those events will now take place virtually on March 12.

In addition, the Association of the United States Army canceled its annual Global Force and Exposition in Huntsville, Alabama.

The commander of Army Forces Europe is self-quarantining after exposure, as well.

The DoD as a whole released new guidance yesterday loosening its telework policy.

The guidance largely mirrors the governmentwide suggestions the Office of Personnel Management has already issued. Among other things, leaders are being told to maximize the number of employees who are authorized to telework. And they’re being “strongly encouraged” to sign “ad-hoc” telework agreements that cover all telework-eligible employees who don’t already have a signed agreement.

In addition, DoD component leaders are being told to conduct tests of their IT networks to make sure their systems can handle the increased traffic flows from a surge in teleworkers, similar to the drill the Air Force conducted among employees at its Pentagon headquarters last week.

The guidance also sets up a five-tiered “risk-based” framework that outlines the steps they should take depending on how severe the virus’s spread has become in a particular area.

If infection rates reach the most serious category — “widespread community transmission” — it suggests commanders consider cancelling public gatherings, quarantining their personnel, and restricting people’s movement in and out of the area.

“This outbreak is dynamic and manifests differently by location, setting, population and individual,” Defense officials wrote. “As a result, responses will need to be flexible, tailored and incremental.”