There Are Now 11 Known Military-Related Cases of COVID-19

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Soldiers stationed on U.S. Army Garrison Casey conduct pre-screening processes on individuals.
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)

A service member assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and their spouse have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases among Defense Department personnel, dependents and contractors to at least 11, base and Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon at the Pentagon, said the small number of cases of coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, reported thus far within the military is probably not a good indicator of the actual presence of the virus in the ranks.

"We're still learning how easy it is to spread this," Friedrichs said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday. "Yes, absolutely, it could be more."

The service member and spouse at JBLM, about 40 miles from Seattle, are self-quarantining at their off-base home, base officials said in a Facebook posting first reported by Stars & Stripes.

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Washington state has suffered one of the nation's worst outbreaks of COVID-19, with 162 confirmed cases and 22 deaths, according to the state's Department of Health.

In addition to the two cases at JBLM, Friedrichs said there are three confirmed cases of coronavirus among active-duty personnel -- a soldier in South Korea, a Marine in Virginia and a sailor in Italy.

There also have been four cases of coronavirus among dependents, and one DoD civilian and a defense contractor have tested positive, Friedrichs said.

All of the individuals within the military who have tested positive are doing well, he said.

There are also another six cases of possible coronavirus infection within the Defense Department that are being evaluated, Friedrichs added.

Thus far, about 647 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. in 35 states and the District of Columbia, and there have been at least 25 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Worldwide, there have been more than 113,000 cases reported and more than 4,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

The spread of coronavirus has forced a number of DoD adjustments worldwide and inside the Pentagon building itself.

At the briefing, Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said a planned trip next week to India and Uzbekistan by Defense Secretary Mark Esper has been indefinitely postponed.

"Modifications" to future joint exercises with other nations are also being considered, but the major Defender Europe 2020 exercise, involving moving about 20,000 troops from the U.S. to Europe, is expected to go ahead, he said.

"Social distancing" to combat the spread of coronavirus arrived Monday at the Pentagon, where Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley were kept at least six feet apart at a meeting, Hoffman said.

The distancing between the top uniformed and civilian leaders of the military is part of an updated Pentagon Force Protection Health Guidance for the military worldwide that will be rolled out through this week to deal with the coronavirus epidemic, Hoffman said.

"The goal is to do what is prudent up front in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus," he said.

The social distancing initiative was evident at the Pentagon press briefing Tuesday. Chairs for reporters were set several feet apart.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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