Pentagon leaders on Wednesday at a briefing laid out plans for testing troops for the coronavirus while remaining operational.
Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said the workforce is continuing to follow guidelines to include maintaining six feet of social distance, washing hands, wearing face masks, cleaning the workspace, and maximizing telework.
He said about 970,000 active duty and civilian personnel are teleworking with “great success,” and the department is sustaining “regular operations at full capacity.”
He said for service members who cannot maintain six feet of social distance, such as new recruits training or sailors on ships, and others in constrained spaces, the Pentagon is implementing the following plan:
— screen with questions and thermometers to identify at risk individuals;
— conduct a quarantine for 14-21 days, depending on the risk tolerance, in order to identify those who are infected but are not yet showing symptoms;
— prior to leaving quarantine, conduct a swab test and a temperature check to identify individuals who are infected but asymptomatic;
— as the unit then moves to their mission, the group will stay together, but limit outside interaction to limit infection;
— procedures like use of face coverings, hand-washing, maintaining clean work spaces and continued monitoring will all still apply as the unit moves forward.
“These interim measures enable us to reduce the risk so we continue to operate until we develop therapeutics and vaccines. and as we learn more about the virus, we will continue to adapt our approach,” Norquist said.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten laid out the Pentagon’s new plan for testing the whole force for COVID-19.
“We have the ability to expand our testing capabilities to wider military operations…prioritizing the highest risk to forces and ensuring our strategic mission assurance,” he said.
He said the Pentagon will work its way through four tiers of troops that were recently approved by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Tier one will be forces in critical national capacities, such as nuclear deterrence; tier two will be engaged fielded forces around the world; tier three will be forward deployed and redeploying forces; and tier four will be other forces, Hyten said.
“We’ve already started tier one…making sure they’re always full-up, already ready to go,” said Hyten, who is the former commander of Strategic Command.
Hyten said testing tier one forces would complete in April, tiers two and three in May, and that he expects the entire 1.4 million force will take into the summer.
“We are already basically working hard on the next carriers going out, the next submarines going out, the next basic training classes,” he said. “The readiness of our military is strong.”
Hyten also said that COVID-19 response efforts have begun to normalize.
“It was a very, very intense and active period the first few weeks at the Pentagon, but now our operations are starting to smooth out and normalize,” he said.
Now, he said, the operations are “similar to any other operation going on around the world,” except instead of troops deploying overseas, they are deployed under the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Northern Command (NORTHCOM).
“The Pentagon role begins to lessen, which is where we are now, starting to normalize,” he added.
He said more than 50,000 U.S. troops are deployed across the nation, including more than 4,200 doctors, nurses, and medical personnel.