COVID-19 Cases Among US Military Personnel Top 100,000

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Soldiers begin operations at the Stan Fulton community testing site.
Soldiers assigned to Task Force South begin operations at the Stan Fulton community based collection site in Las Vegas, Nov. 30, 2020. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Ryan Getsie)

The U.S. military's coronavirus cases have topped 100,000, 10 months after the first case was announced in a service member in late February, according to data released Wednesday by the Defense Department.

The DoD announced 1,608 new cases among troops in the last two days, for a total of 101,236 since the pandemic began. Outbreaks include 15 U.S. Forces Korea personnel diagnosed this month after flying in from elsewhere, and another earlier this month with 27 cases among Marines on Okinawa, according to Stars and Stripes.

U.S. military installations are under DoD orders not to disclose their cases -- a precautionary measure the Pentagon says it took to maintain operational security.

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Hospitalizations have risen 20% since the beginning of November. As of Wednesday, 886 military personnel were in hospitals being treated for COVID-19. In addition, 822 civilian DoD employees, 199 family members and 289 defense contractors are currently hospitalized.

To date, 154,620 people affiliated with the DoD have tested positive for the coronavirus. The majority -- 92,023 -- have recovered and 165 have died, including 14 service members, 103 civil servants, 39 contractors and nine family members.

Infection rates across the services, including the Reserve components, have been relatively uniform, with the Marine Corps having the highest ratio of personnel infected for its population, 5.5%. Just over 5.3% of the U.S. Army has tested positive since the start of the pandemic, followed by the Navy, at 5.1%, and the Air Force, at 4.7%.

Roughly 2.8% of Air and Army National Guard personnel have been infected.

The DoD began vaccinating its clinicians and frontline safety and security personnel the week of Dec. 14, beginning in 13 military communities with 44,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Shipments of a second vaccine, made by Moderna, began arriving this week.

"The vaccine is safe, effective and a critical addition to current public health measures. It helps us protect our health, our families, our communities, and significantly decrease the public health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic," Defense Health Agency Lt. Gen. Ronald Place said in a news release Dec. 18.

Defense officials are encouraging service members to get the vaccine, although they have not made it mandatory. During a press conference Dec. 9, Place said the department's policy is that "it will be voluntary for everyone" as long as it is administered under an emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

A federal regulatory group ruled last week that employers can require workers to get the vaccine and bar them from work if they refuse.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Dec. 16 that such a requirement would not violate public law.

The DoD is vaccinating its top priority group now, including health care providers and support workers, emergency services, and public safety personnel.

After all who want it in that group receive the vaccine, the next group of personnel, including those who work in strategic national security jobs such as nuclear forces and Cyber Command, will be next, followed by those with deployment orders within three months.

Critically essential staff will then be offered the vaccine, subject to availability, followed by high-risk DoD beneficiaries -- including residents of armed forces retirement homes; family members and retirees with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk for severe cases; and older retirees.

Finally, all healthy individuals will have access to the vaccine, which will be offered at military treatment facilities, Tricare network pharmacies and, eventually, civilian providers.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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