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As COVID-19 spikes across US, troop diagnoses jump 20 percent in a week

Meghann Myers

As COVID-19 spikes across US, troop diagnoses jump 20 percent in a week
The number of Defense Department-affiliated personnel diagnosed with COVID-19 this week jumped 18 percent from last week’s numbers, according to the latest data.

That came out to 2,345 new cases this week, up from 1,793 last week. Of this week’s new cases, 1,782 were among troops, a jump of 20 percent over the previous week.

Overall, since the department began releasing its numbers in mid-March, 10,606 service members have been diagnosed, and an additional 4,971 civilians, dependents and contractors have tested positive.

Following a spike in April, along with many hot spots in the country, DoD’s cases began to trend downward in May. But June has erased that trend: the department added 6,128 cases in the past four weeks, versus 2,304 cases in the four weeks before that ― the bulk of May ― and 5,393 cases in the previous four weeks.

Spokespeople for the defense secretary’s office and the Joint Staff did not respond to requests for comment on the rise.

To that end, senior leadership have also not done any in-person updates on the department’s coronavirus pandemic efforts since early May. The defense and deputy defense secretaries, as well as the joint chiefs chairman, vice chairman and joint staff doctor, had periodically scheduled briefings dating back to early March.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper last publicly addressed the pandemic during a White House announcement for Operation Warp Speed May 15, a multi-agency effort to get a vaccine to market.

“We will deliver, by the end of this year a vaccine at scale to treat the American people and our partners abroad,” Epser said.

As of Friday, 0.5 percent of service members have contracted COVID-19, compared to 0.7 percent nationwide. Of those, 270 have been hospitalized, 5,736 have recovered and three have died.

This week also saw, for the first time, the Army surpass the Navy as the service with the most cases. Following outbreaks on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and the destroyer Kidd, 100-percent crew testing discovered more than 1,000 cases on TR and roughly 100 more on Kidd, though the Navy stopped publishing numbers on both ships within weeks of first reporting the outbreaks.

The Army has more than twice as many active-duty troops as the Navy, as well as several hundred thousand more in its reserve component, but it had been far outpaced by the Navy following those outbreaks. As of Friday, it is reporting 3,226 cases ― a jump of 20 percent over last week ― while the Navy is reporting 3,216, a 13 percent bump.

Though spokespeople did not respond to queries asking for clarification, the military’s asymptomatic testing plan may account for many of the new cases across the services, as well as the Army’s recent rise.

Every trainee coming into initial training ― thousands a week across the Army’s four basic training posts ― is testing for COVID-19. So, too, are ready-to-deploy special operations units deploying and re-deploying conventional units. And as DoD’s travel ban has lifted and permanent change-of-station moves are ramping up, any troops moving overseas for a forward deployment are also tested.

As the largest service, the Army has the highest share of those 100 percent testing troops, which could account for its recent increases.

At the same time, the Air Force ― comparable in size to the Navy with about 330,000 active-duty troops ― saw a 44 percent spike in cases this week, after having the lowest case-per-capita numbers throughout the pandemic so far. The service has now diagnosed 1,128 airmen.

“In general we are doing more testing, which can lead to more positive cases, which prompts more testing,” Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Malinda Singleton told Military Times. “Many of our installations are in current hotspots (Texas, Arizona, Florida), which is also leading to an increase in positive cases.”

The Marine Corps saw a significant bump of its own, 23 percent, for 1,020 cases total. The National Guard’s increase rate dropped from 14 percent last week to 10 percent this week, with 1,849 total.

Nationwide spikes

Both the military and DoD’s numbers are jumping alongside many parts of the country, as states like Arizona, Florida and Texas experience record high diagnoses after relaxing their stay-at-home orders.

Those moves have also inspired DoD to relax its travel ban, allowing PCS moves between 48 states and territories, as well as six other countries.

Officials have said that those green-lit regions could be shut down again if cases spike and hospital capacity diminishes, the two main criteria for re-opening, but that has so far not happened.

Department-wide, COVID-19 cases were up 18 percent this week, versus 16 percent last week.

The civilian community is now reporting 2,385 cases, up 11 percent from last week, with 177 hospitalization, 1,171 recoveries and 20 deaths ― one of which came this week, the first across the department since late May.

Cases among dependents were up 14 percent, to 1,534. Of those 61 have been hospitalized, 842 have recovered and five have died.

And contractors, who have suffered the highest mortality rate of DoD-affiliated personnel, at 0.8 percent, saw a 16 percent jump in cases this week. Of 1,052 diagnoses total, 78 have been hospitalized, 495 have recovered and nine have died.


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