Military officers quarantined as top Coast Guard official tests positive for COVID-19
Most of the top military officers in the United States are quarantining after the Coast Guard’s second-in-command tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday.
Coast Guard vice commandant Adm. Charles Ray tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday after experiencing mild symptoms over the weekend, the Coast Guard announced Tuesday.
Ray was at the Pentagon on Friday, according to the Coast Guard. Some of his meetings included other service chiefs, top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in his own statement.
“Out of an abundance of caution, all potential close contacts from these meetings are self-quarantining and have been tested this morning,” Hoffman said. “No Pentagon contacts have exhibited symptoms and we have no additional positive tests to report at this time.”
Hoffman did not elaborate on who is quarantining, but a senior defense official later specified who met with Ray.
The list includes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and all but one of the other Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In addition to Milley, Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten; Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday; Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown; Gen. Gary Thomas, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps; Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond; National Guard Bureau chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson; and Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency are also quarantining, the official said.
Members of the Joint Staff were also in the meetings, the official added.
“All have been tested with no positive results to report and none are exhibiting any symptoms,” the official said.
An Air Force spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that Ray met with Brown and Raymond.
Both officials are quarantining and have tested negative, the spokesperson said. They referred questions on the date of their meeting back to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger were traveling last week and so did not meet with Ray.
On Tuesday afternoon, after news broke of the military quarantines, Esper met with Bulgarian Minister of Defense Krasimir Karakachanov at Pentagon and later spoke in person at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Ray was at the White House on Sept. 27 for a Gold Star family event in which several other top defense officials, including Milley and Esper, were also in attendance.
Ray’s diagnosis comes amid a growing coronavirus outbreak centered on the White House, including President Trump contracting the virus.
Several attendees at Trump’s White House announcement nominating Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, which happened the day before the Gold Star families event, have since tested positive for the virus.
In addition to Trump, first lady Melania Trump, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, close aide Hope Hicks, campaign manager Bill Stepien, three Republican senators, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway have tested positive, among others.
Trump was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment Friday after experiencing a high fever and a drop in his oxygen level that required supplemental oxygen. Trump was discharged Monday evening, returning to the White House still infectious and almost immediately removing his mask.
Trump was given several experimental treatments, including an antibody cocktail produced by Regeneron, the antiviral medication remdesivir and dexamethasone, a steroid used to treat inflammation. On Tuesday, White House physician Sean Conley said Trump is reporting “no symptoms.”
After the military quarantines were announced Tuesday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) ripped Trump for “antics” since his COVID-19 diagnosis that “have been downright reckless and harmful.”
“While our military can still operate while leadership is quarantined, the national security implications of the president’s recklessness cannot be overstated,” Smith said in a statement. “Our adversaries are always looking for any weakness to exploit. President Trump’s pathetic attempts to exude strength aren’t fooling anyone – Americans know he is weak and so do those who wish us harm.”
Smith also accused Trump of “willfully jeopardiz[ing] the safety and security of the American people and our military apparatus.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged our nation. How can we ever recover if we can’t even count on our commander in chief to follow the most basic guidelines established by his own government?” Smith said.
The Pentagon has sought to downplay national security concerns about the growing outbreak hitting top U.S. leadership, saying the military remains ready to defend the country.
“There is no change to the operational readiness or mission capability of the U.S. Armed Forces,” Hoffman said Tuesday. “Senior military leaders are able to remain fully mission capable and perform their duties from an alternative work location. [Department of Defense] has been following CDC guidelines since April with respect to temperature testing, social distancing and the wearing of masks to the greatest extent when social distancing is not possible and will continue to do so.”
Ellen Mitchell contributed to this report, which was updated at 4:42 p.m.