The U.S. is looking at the possibility of canceling or postponing more joint military exercises with other nations to contain the coronavirus threat, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Monday.
Last week, U.S. Forces Korea canceled an exercise in South Korea, where the largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported outside China. Those cases include a 23-year-old U.S. soldier and a 61-year-old female military dependent.
"Right now, the overall broad impact to the uniformed military is very minimal," Milley said at a joint Pentagon news conference with Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
"We have modified some of the exercises on the Korean peninsula," he added. "We're taking a look at some other exercises" worldwide for possible cancellation or rescheduling.
However, the Cobra Gold joint exercise with Thailand already underway will continue. "We don't see any significant impact on that," Milley said.
U.S. Northern Command remains the primary coordinator of the military's response to the epidemic, Esper said. The main goal is to deal with the disease, formally known as COVID-19, while maintaining the ability to defend the nation.
"Obviously, we're doing testing" for the coronavirus among the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, he said, adding that the military is working to get more test kits and equipment to the region.
Milley and Esper said they are relying on regional and combatant commanders "to make good judgments" on their responses to the epidemic.
Defense Department research labs are coordinating with other government agencies to work on a vaccine, he added.
In Italy, U.S. bases in northern areas of the country entered a second week of school, day care and gym closures as the country's cases of COVID-19 doubled over the weekend, rising to 1,694, according to local health officials.
In Washington state, where officials have reported at least five deaths among civilians from the coronavirus, commanders at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, about 36 miles from Seattle, "have shut down some widely attended gatherings, but nothing else," Milley said.
In the U.S., two more cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the Tampa Bay area, where Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, has declared a public health emergency.
As of Monday morning, there were at least 88 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Also Monday, the World Health Organization said there were more than 89,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide and 3,000 deaths, the vast majority of them in China.
At a briefing in Geneva on Monday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that South Korea "has now reported more than 4,200 cases and 22 deaths, meaning it has more than half of all cases outside China."
"We are in uncharted territory," he said. "We have never before seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but which can also be contained with the right measures."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.