The Army Wants to Design a Coronavirus Test Kit That Can Screen Whole Units at Once

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Soldiers stationed on U.S. Army Garrison Casey conduct pre-screening processes
Soldiers stationed on U.S. Army Garrison Casey conduct pre-screening processes on individuals awaiting entry to the base, USAG-Casey, Dongducheon, Republic of Korea, Feb. 26, 2020. Additional screening measures of a verbal questionnaire and temperature check are in response to the heighted awareness of Coronavirus (COVID-19) following a surge in cases throughout the Republic of Korea and are meant to help control the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the force. (U.S. Army photo/Amber I. Smith)

The U.S. Army's top officer told Congress on Tuesday that the service has ramped up its coronavirus testing effort to prevent the deadly outbreak from spreading through the force.

A week has passed since an American soldier serving in South Korea tested positive for the novel coronavirus -- officially known as COVID-19 -- prompting the Pentagon to postpone annual military drills in the country.

Since then, the Army has increased its efforts to contain the potential spread of infection, such as ordering that every soldier returning from deployments in the region undergo screenings to see whether they have been exposed to the virus.

"Every soldier is being screened at multiple times during the redeployment to make sure that they don't have a problem with that," Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told members of the House Armed Services Committee.

Related: South Korea, US Postpone Annual Military Drills Due to Virus

"We have screening that we are doing for all of our soldiers coming back from Korea. We just had the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division come back, and they are getting screened all along the way."

Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colorado, wanted to know more about how the Army is prepared to conduct testing on a large scale, pointing out that the service has about 190,000 soldiers deployed around the world.

"Sitting here today, are you comfortable that the Army has sufficient coronavirus test kits, medical supplies, and the training to ... address the threat?" he asked.

McConville said he isn't satisfied yet, but the Army's medical experts are working to rapidly develop test kits that can handle large groups of soldiers at one time.

"We can do it in small numbers now -- 50-60, so many a day -- but we need to get up to 1,000 so we can really turn these," he said. "We are going to great lengths to mitigate the risks for all of our soldiers. ... We want to make sure that our soldiers and families have every capability to protect them against this virus if it comes their way."

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told lawmakers that the service has "extraordinary people" within its medical research and development community who are working with the National Institutes of Health on a vaccine for COVID-19.

"We are working on the vaccine," McCarthy said. "They are testing on animals right now and will ultimately get to a human sample within a couple of months."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Read More: The Army Is Working Overtime to Develop a Coronavirus Vaccine

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