The Pentagon on Wednesday confirmed that the Air Force has moved 500,000 coronavirus testing swabs to the United States from Italy.
An Air National Guard unit transported 500,000 swabs – used as part of the process to test for COVID-19 – from Italy to Memphis, Tenn. The swabs were then loaded onto FedEx aircraft and distributed around the country as directed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein earlier on Wednesday confirmed the shipment.
“We’ve just made a pretty significant movement into Memphis last night,” Goldfein told reporters.
He added that the shipment was in support of the Department of Homeland Security and HHS “to make sure that we are meeting the demands that they have.”
Defense One first reported on the shipment of swabs, which were flown by a C-17 cargo plane using the call “Reach 911.” It landed early Tuesday morning at Memphis International Airport.
The Trump administration has faced intense criticism over the lack of widely available coronavirus tests. Officials have insisted testing is ramping up this week and will be more accessible across the country in the coming days and weeks.
Joint Staff Surgeon Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, who spoke alongside Hoffman, said the swabs have been sent to different medical facilities to collect samples from individuals. Those samples are then sent to a lab for analysis.
The Defense Department has made its 14 coronavirus testing labs available to analyze samples. As of Tuesday, 936 patients had been tested in its facilities.
Friedrichs also said the military is “working with international partners to meet our full demand” for testing equipment, in addition to working with U.S. companies.
The military has 89 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 49 active-duty service members, 19 family members, 14 civilian and seven contract employees, the Pentagon announced Wednesday morning.
Fourteen of the 89 have been hospitalized.
Goldfein said seven of those who have been infected by the virus are active-duty airmen.
The Air Force general stressed that while the numbers are low, “we are taking it very seriously,” adding that global operations and the movement of people and supplies — including test kits — have not been interrupted.
Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, who spoke alongside Goldfein, said the service expects “our cases will increase, just like they are in the general public.”