US Military Cracks Down on Travel, Cancels Meetings as Coronavirus Cases Spread

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Soldiers stationed on U.S. Army Garrison Casey conduct pre-screening.
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 (U.S. Army/Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

The U.S. military services are erring on the side of caution, with some attempting to limit human contact as much as possible, while others are canceling events and overseas travel as the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, continues to spread.

The U.S. Marine Corps is stressing the use of virtual conferences instead of in-person meetings; conferences “and other gatherings of personnel from disparate locations” need the approval of a three-star general: either a deputy commandant, a Marine force commander, or a commanding general of a Marine Expeditionary Force according to a March 7 administrative message to the force.

The service shall "plan and implement telework options to minimize workforce footprint and exposure as required," according to the MarAdmin released by Lt. Gen. George Smith, deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations.

Additionally, all liberty travel must be reviewed prior to departure to ensure that "personnel are not traveling to locations that have declared a public health emergency," according to the message.

Related: Coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage

Any Marines returning or redeploying from countries under a Centers for Disease Control travel advisory -- or who may have had contact with an infected person -- must be identified, screened and monitored for symptoms of the virus.

"Be prepared to place service members under a 14-day restriction of movement," the memo states.

The U.S. Navy said it has created a "COVID-19 virus cell" within the office of the Chief of Naval Operations to consolidate information between the component commands and any commands that report directly to the CNO. The information will then be dispersed to relevant parties, according to the update guidance signed by CNO Adm. Mike Gilday.

Over the weekend, the Air Force canceled two events -- Spark Collider and Pitch Bowl -- which had been scheduled for March 10-12 in Austin, Texas. That move followed the cancellation of the South by Southwest (SXSW) film and tech festival, also in Austin.

"Although we are saddened to cancel an event with so many incredible companies, airmen, and joint service members who were planning to attend, we ultimately made this decision for the health and safety of our staff, our guests, and the community," said Lt. Col. Matthew Scott, AFWERX Austin director. AFWERX is an Air Force innovation program that partners with small business and academia.

The Air Force Academy has canceled any official travel and temporary-duty assignments for cadets and cadet candidates that would take them outside the U.S. for the rest of March, the school announced March 6. Leisure travel to countries currently reporting at the CDC Level II alert -- to practice enhanced precaution -- has also been banned for the rest of the month, the memo states.

With a growing number of coronavirus cases in South Korea and Italy, the Army on Sunday said it has suspended travel for soldiers and their families to and from either country.

"Out of an abundance of caution, Headquarters, Department of the Army has made the decision to stop movement and delay travel of Soldiers stationed in Italy and Korea, which have been identified by the Centers for Disease Control as alert level three for COVID-19," according to the order, first reported by CNN.

Last week, the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard confirmed that all recruits are now being screened for the coronavirus before starting initial-entry training.

The updated procedures follow newly reported cases within the U.S. military.

A sailor based in Italy tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Friday; Pentagon officials announced that a Marine from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, had tested positive for the disease Saturday.

A soldier in South Korea was diagnosed with COVID-19 late last month, along with his wife, which marked the first confirmed case of the disease in a U.S. service member.

As of Monday, the virus has infected more than 110,000 people across 97 countries, according to the World Health Organization, as reported by The New York Times.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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