Pentagon raises base security globally over coronavirus
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday raised the military’s health protection level to its second-highest setting for all Defense Department installations globally as the number of service members with coronavirus continues to increase.
The Pentagon elevated the Health Protection Condition (HPCON) to Charlie, a designation which will increase the number of employees teleworking, cancel large-scale meetings and require temperatures to be taken at entrances to some buildings on military installations, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah told reporters.
She added that the measures will vary across facilities.
As of Wednesday morning, 227 service members had tested positive for the coronavirus — up 53 from the day prior — with 12 in the hospital.
Another 81 civilian employees, 67 dependents and 40 contractors have the illness.
Esper on Monday raised the HPCON at the Pentagon building to Charlie — which lines up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Level 3 warning for some countries — though President Trump the same day signaled that he would soon work to loosen social-distancing guidelines for certain areas of the United States.
Trump has said he wants the economy to reopen by Easter, April 12, though public health experts do not even expect the country to have reached the peak of the outbreak by then.
Democratic and Republican governors and local officials have since pushed back against the idea, warning that ending strict social distancing practices could put millions of lives at risk.
“Everybody keeps asking ‘what’s gonna happen in two weeks, what’s gonna happen in three weeks?’ We don’t know,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff Surgeon, said when asked about Trump’s push.
He stressed the need to minimize contact for now and “as those situations change then we’ll reassess and make the appropriate decision.”
Friedrichs acknowledged that “our curve is not flattening,” when it comes to the virus spreading within the ranks.
“That’s why we went to HPCON Charlie today, which includes restrictions on large gatherings and includes additional social distancing.”
Asked if he had seen any medical data that supports a move to pull back distancing restrictions by Easter, Friedrichs would only say that such actions in the military are “a balancing act.”
“At the end of the day we have to balance both the health and protection of our service members with our responsibility to this nation to continue to defend it.”