In a sign of the continued decline of COVID-19 across the country, the Defense Department last Wednesday skipped its update of coronavirus case numbers -- data it faithfully has published weekly since July 2021.
The department released the information three times a week during the first year of the pandemic, while states across the U.S. reported the data daily. But as case numbers have dwindled, more than a dozen states have cut their output to once or twice a week, and it appears the DoD is following suit.
"There's been no decision ... to slim down our flow of information," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Military.com during a press conference Monday, though he did not say how often the information will be published. "We're still working on this very, very hard."
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the DoD has logged 608,650 cases of COVID-19, including 391,341 cases among U.S. service members. More than 680 people have died, including 93 troops, 414 civilian employees, 35 dependents and 139 contractors, according to its published statistics.
In March 2020, DoD officials ordered individual military installations and combatant commands to cease publishing COVID-19 case numbers, citing concerns for operational security. The overall department numbers have been published online during the last two surges in the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Kirby noted that 97.7% of active-duty personnel are fully vaccinated and 93.8% of the National Guard and Reserve forces have received at least one dose.
Since the COVID-19 vaccinations were approved for emergency use, the DoD has administered more than 7 million shots, he added.
"Nobody's doing any spiking of any footballs here. We know this pandemic is still ongoing, that the virus is still dangerous and deadly," Kirby said. "We're watching this every single day, and we're not afraid to make adjustments."
Speaking on PBS NewsHour last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said the country is "going in the right direction" in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, but needs to be mindful of the rise of variants, including the new BA.2 subvariant of omicron in Europe.
"I would not be surprised ... if, in the next few weeks, we do see an uptick in cases," Fauci said, adding that it didn't appear, however, based on cases in the United Kingdom, that BA.2 is any more severe than omicron.
The White House has asked Congress for $22.5 billion to continue funding COVID-19 response and research, to include surveillance, testing and monitoring.
Last week, officials wrote to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asking her to back the additional funding, given that current pandemic support expires this month.
According to Shalanda Young, the director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and Jeffrey Zients, White House coordinator for COVID-19 response, the money is needed to continue testing, surveillance, research and more.
Without it, they added, the country could be "blindsided" by a future variant.
"Failing to provide additional funding for the COVID response now will leave us unequipped to deal with a future surge," they wrote in a letter published by NPR.
– Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
-- Travis Tritten can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.