East Coast-Based Marines Will Take Operational Pause Amid Coronavirus Crisis

A Camp Lejeune Marine walks alone
A Marine with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division (2d MARDIV), walks through smoke while conducting urban operations during a field exercise at MOUT Lejeune, Camp Lejeune, N.C., Dec. 12, 2016. (Abraham Lopez/Marine Corps)

Only essential Marine Corps personnel based along the East Coast will be required to report for duty on Monday, the service announced this weekend, as leaders weigh how best to stem the spread of the dangerous coronavirus while still accomplishing vital national security missions.

Marine Corps Installations East -- which includes bases and air stations in Virginia, North and South Carolinas, and Georgia -- will conduct an operational pause on Monday, officials announced in a Sunday news release. Only essential personnel should report to work.

"The operational pause is in place to allow local leaders to assess which pre-deployment activities, training, and installation support can continue given the COVID-19 guidance set forth by the Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, and various branches of government," Nat Fahy, a spokesman for Marine Corps Installations East's Camp Lejeune, the largest base affected by the move.

It's not immediately clear how long the operational pause will last. Fahy said leaders are continually assessing the coronavirus situation and will determine when to lift it.

All personnel assigned to II Marine Expeditionary Force have been instructed to check with their chain of command for reporting instructions. Those needed to keep military bases functioning, such as security personnel, or those supporting troops' training are generally considered to be essential, Fahy said.

"While the command and the individual departments determine who is essential well before an incident, it can also depend on the nature of the circumstances installations are confronted with," he added. "Each incident, from a weather event to a security threat can change the calculus considerably."

Related: Pentagon Bans Domestic Travel for Troops, Families As Coronavirus Spreads

The operational pause follows sweeping travel restrictions on troops and some family members the Defense Department put into place late Friday as the coronavirus has been declared a national emergency. Those restrictions last until mid-May.

Base exchanges and Marine Marts will remain open on Monday along with food service operations, child development centers and the Inns of the Corps-Lejeune temporary lodging. Camp Lejeune's child development centers are open to all personnel, whether they are considered essential or not, Fahy said.

Gyms, pools, theaters, libraries and other Marine Corps Community Services facilities will be closed "in order to prepare for any curtailment directives that may materialize later in the week," the news release states.

Those relying on East Coast naval medical centers for treatment are urged to contact their local facilities for information on continued services and hours of operation. Many hospitals across the U.S. are limiting non-essential surgeries as the threat of the virus becoming more widespread remains.

There are at least two positive coronavirus cases on East Coast Marine Corps installations. The dependent of a service member based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina tested positive for the virus last week. A Marine based in Quantico, Virginia, also tested positive for coronavirus this month after returning from official overseas travel.

The Marine Corps' top leaders issued a video message to the force last week urging them to take the threat of the virus seriously. Marines and their families were told to limit large gatherings and obey any new force protection measures announced as the virus continues to spread.

The Marine Corps announced last week it would block family members from attending boot camp graduations. The Army, Navy and Air Force have done the same.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Read more: Here's What the Coronavirus Travel Ban Means for Military Families

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