Here’s how the US military is preparing for COVID-19

With forces in more than 150 countries around the world, the United States military is starting to adopt broader measures to protect personnel from the global COVID-19 pandemic.

A sweeping domestic travel restriction for all U.S. military personnel went into effect on Monday, March 16 in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, though in-person work is still on for most of the military.

The measure, which applies to military families on bases, was announced on Friday, March 13 and is in effect until at least May 11. Service members are allowed to take local leave.

The Pentagon, Air Force, Coast Guard have authorized some personnel to work remotely if possible. The U.S. Marine Corps on the U.S. eastern seaboard ordered an operational pause over the weekend, requiring only essential personnel to report for duty.

The U.S. Navy reserve has postponed drill duties for most reservists until May 11 and put a 60-day halt to non-mission essential travel. The U.S. Army has suspended movement and ordered a delay on travel for personnel in Korea and Italy, two of the countries hardest hit so far.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called on Washington to deploy the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare buildings in the state for use as makeshift hospitals.

As of Monday afternoon, the military has not yet received any formal request for the USACE’s help, Defense Department spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon.

As of Sunday morning, 37 U.S. Defense Department personnel were confirmed positive for COVID-19, Hoffman said Monday. That number includes 18 service members, 13 dependents, three civilians and three contractors.

The department has conducted 495 tests for the virus as of Sunday, according to Joint Staff Surgeon USAF Brigadier General Paul Friedrichs.

On Sunday, a U.S. Navy sailor assigned to the USS Boxer – currently in San Diego, California – was announced to have tested “presumptive positive,” marking the military’s first known case aboard a ship.

A U.S. Army soldier in Europe tested positive for the virus last week, Europe Command announced Saturday. The soldier was the second confirmed case of a U.S. military member in Europe, after a Navy sailor tested positive in Italy on March 7. A civilian employee at Ramstein Air Base in Germany also tested positive on Saturday.

Last week, the military restricted personnel from traveling to countries deemed “level 3,” the highest level of risk warning by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Multinational military exercises in Europe and Africa cancelled

U.S. Army Europe on Monday cancelled key components of its showcase Defender-Europe 20 exercise with NATO. The Army said it dropped linked exercises Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response “health, safety and readiness of our military, civilians, and family members.”

The exercises were to include more than 37,000 participants from 18 NATO member states – 20,000 troops deploying from the continental U.S. to join another 9,000 U.S. service members based in Europe and 8,000 soldiers from other countries, including almost 3,000 from Poland.

As of March 13, all movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has ceased.

On Saturday, United States Africa Command announced the cancellation of exercise Obangame Express, a joint exercise to build West African militaries’ abilities to counter sea-based illicit activity.

AFRICOM also cancelled African Lion, an annual exercise with more than 5,000 participants scheduled to begin on March 23.

The command had previously scaled down plans for the African Lion exercise to avoid troops billeting together in close quarters in Morocco, Senegal, Spain and Tunisia.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to cancel the exercise was made based on international travel restrictions associated with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and to minimize the risk of exposure to U.S. and partner nation service members,” AFRICOM said Monday.

Norway cancelled this year’s Exercise Cold Response last week after consulting with allies.

The World Health Organization classified the COIVD-19 as a pandemic last week.

There are 164,837 known cases and 6,470 coronavirus deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The pandemic is expected worsen before a vaccine can be produced, but quarantining and self-isolation can significantly slow its spread.

International responses to the virus have included closing national borders, curfews and restricting civilian air travel.

This story was updated at 1738 on March 16 to add the cancellation of exercise African Lion, and again at 1842 to include the U.S. military’s updated number of COVID-19 cases.


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