Deployed active-duty and Reserve health care personnel, troops involved in the nation's nuclear deterrent effort, and new recruits will be among those at the head of the line under the new plan to test the entire force for the novel coronavirus, top Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
The timeline for the availability of tests will depend on supply, but the first phase for top priority personnel should be completed by the end of April, the officials said at a Pentagon briefing.
The plan approved by Defense Secretary Mark Esper breaks down the force into four tiers for testing.
Tier 1 involves personnel involved in critical national capabilities, such as nuclear deterrence, said Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said testing for Tier 1 should be completed sometime in May.
Tier 2 will test fielded forces around the world. Tier 3 is for forces forward-deployed or those redeploying. Tier 4 is for all other forces.
Testing is an important tool in combating COVID-19, Hyten said, but service members will still be required to follow White House guidelines on social distancing and wearing face masks "to improve our overall force availability."
The new approach will also involve screening and quarantining for those about to deploy on assignments where social distancing is difficult to impossible, such as ships and submarines, said Deputy Secretary David Norquist.
Those individuals will be screened with questionnaires and thermometers to identify at-risk personnel. Those deemed to be at risk will then be put in quarantine for 14 to 21 days to identify possible infections, he said.
"Prior to leaving quarantine, we will conduct a swab test and a temperature check to identify individuals who are infected, but still do not show it," Norquist said. "As the unit then moves to its mission, [we] will keep the group together, but [with] limited outside interaction to prevent introduction of infection from outside."
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley last week announced an aspirational goal of having the military conduct 60,000 tests a day by the end of June. But Hyten and Norquist said a target of 50,000 tests per week would likely be achieved by the end of June.
"To get to the entire force, the 1.4 million active-duty and the entire [National] Guard and Reserve, is going to take us into the summer, but I think we'll get to the deploying, redeploying forces, the forces engaged, all of the Tier 1 forces next month," Hyten said.
"So we're moving quickly. It is a supply issue right now, which is causing us not to be able to go down the full spectrum of all of the forces," he said. "That's why we came up with the tiered approach."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.