WASHINGTON -- Defense and local military officials are closely watching the COVID-19 situation and will make adjustments as needed, Defense Department officials told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
Thomas McCaffery, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said during yesterday's briefing that along with an uptick in civilian communities, military COVID-19 cases have risen in Florida, Texas, Arizona and some parts of California.
DOD is doing more testing, McCaffery said, which is revealing service members who are asymptomatic — that is, not displaying signs of the sickness. Still, he added, the problem is manageable. Throughout the Military Health System’s treatment facilities, 57 patients are tied to COVID-19, he said.
The department stands ready to advise local commanders, but commanders must adhere to clear metrics in relaxing controls: a 14-day downward trend for flu-like and COVID-like symptoms, and a 14-day downward trend for new cases, Thomas Muir, the director of Washington Headquarters Services, said. Commanders also must evaluate the medical facilities in their area, base or region and consider the availability of personal protective equipment and other mitigation factors.
So far, the uptick has not affected the so-called "green list" of bases where travel restrictions have been lifted. "Our policy is tiered," said Lernes Hebert, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel. "So, the state has to first meet the 'gating criteria,' but once they meet it, then we devolve down to the installation assessments."
For example, he said, Texas met the requirement. But the state is large, and the outbreak is in different stages in different parts of the state. "Installations do their assessments based on local travel restrictions, based on availability of health care and that sort of thing," Hebert said. "They then provide that to their military department secretary, who makes the decision whether or not to lift the travel restrictions."
The department does not want to do wholesale closings of states if it is not necessary, Hebert said.
DOD is already working with those directing Operation Warp Speed — the government's effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine — on when service members will receive the vaccine against coronavirus when it becomes available, McCaffery said. A lot that needs to happen, he cautioned, and he stressed that no one will get the vaccine before clinical trials prove its efficacy and safety.
Officials will determine the priority populations for the vaccine, he said, mentioning front-line health care workers and susceptible populations as possible candidates. As the vaccine effort gets closer to fruition, he added, the determination will be made as to how the military fits into the overall vaccination program.