Overnight Defense: Pentagon grapples with coronavirus outbreak | Aircraft carrier docks in Guam after more sailors test positive | Army hospitals to reach NY on Friday

Overnight Defense: Pentagon grapples with coronavirus outbreak | Aircraft carrier docks in Guam after more sailors test positive | Army hospitals to reach NY on Friday
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Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.


THE TOPLINE: A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier where nearly two dozen sailors have reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus will pull into port in Guam while everyone on board is tested for the virus, the Navy's top civilian said Thursday.

"We found several more cases on board the ship," acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said at a Pentagon briefing. "We are in the process of testing 100 percent of the crew of that ship to ensure that we're able to contain the spread of whatever might have occurred there on the ship.

"But I also want to emphasize that the ship is operationally capable and can do its mission if required to do so," he continued. "So the ship is pulling into Guam. It will be pierside. No one on the crew will be allowed to leave anywhere into Guam, other than on pierside."

New cases: Modly said at the briefing that eight sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier had tested positive and were flown off the ship, as was reported Wednesday evening.

But The Wall Street Journal reported shortly after the briefing wrapped that at least 23 sailors aboard the ship have now tested positive for the virus.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said "additional positive cases" had been discovered without specifying the number, adding that "we expect additional positive tests."

"We are taking this threat very seriously and are working quickly to identify and isolate positive cases while preventing further spread of the virus aboard the ship," Gilday said. "We are confident that our aggressive response will keep USS Theodore Roosevelt able to respond to any crisis in the region."

Ship details: The ship holds a crew of 5,000 sailors, as well as dozens of fighter jets and other types of aircraft.

The carrier had been operating in the Philippine Sea, and the decision to dock it in Guam effectively sidelines what officials consider a major source of America's power projection.

The carrier was last in port 15 days ago in Danang, Vietnam. Officials have previously said the coronavirus cases may not necessarily be tied to the port visit since aircraft regularly land on the ship, bringing in new people from outside the command.

What we know about the sailors: Modly said all the sailors who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are experiencing mild symptoms.

"The sailors who have been flown off the ship are currently doing fine. None of them have been required to be hospitalized because their symptoms are very mild," he said. "They're aches and pain and those types of things, sore throats, but nothing that required hospitalization. So they are in quarantine now on Guam."

He also said there is limited capacity to conduct coronavirus tests in labs on board the carrier without flying the tests to outside labs. There are about 800 testing kits aboard the ship, with more being flown there today, he added.

In all, Modly said 104 active-duty sailors, 23 civilians, 16 dependents and 19 contractors have tested positive in the Navy.


ARMY HOSPITALS TO REACH NYC FRIDAY: Two Army field hospitals sent to New York will be reach the city on Friday and be set up to treat non-coronavirus patients at the Javits Center starting Monday, according to the Army's top general.

The service's 531st Hospital from Fort Campbell, Ky., and the 9th Hospital from Fort Hood, Texas are expected to set up at the Manhattan location over the weekend, bringing with them the equipment and personnel to staff 284 beds, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.

FEMA will provide beds and some equipment while the deployed hospitals are bringing roughly 650 personnel and their own equipment, as well. The Army does not need to use tents as the medical facility will be set up within an already existing structure, McConville said. 

Meanwhile, in Seattle: The Army has also deployed to Seattle another 600 personnel with the 627th Hospital from Fort Carson, Colo., which arrived on Wednesday evening.

Army personnel "are coordinating with state and local authorities and conducting a site survey of the CenturyLink Field and a state fairground" to decide where to place the 248 beds they will support, McConville said. 

Retired personnel wanted: To gain more help with the missions in New York and Washington state, the Army has reached out to retired personnel with medical expertise to see if they would return to the service as volunteers, McConville said.  

But efforts 'insufficient': The Pentagon has scrambled in recent weeks to support state and federal efforts to quell the spread of COVID-19 while also keeping its forces and civilian personnel safe.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday ordered a stop to all troop movement overseas for 60 days and raised the military's health protection level to its second-highest setting for all military installations globally.

But a recently released order from Army headquarters has stated that "mitigation measures taken by the Army to blunt the spread of COVID-19 have proven insufficient."

"COVID-19 continues to spread geographically as the number of infected persons continues to rise," according to the order.

"Additional measures and actions are required to protect the force from further spread of COVID-19."

The Army has 288 confirmed cases of the coronavirus -- roughly half of total cases in the military -- including 100 soldiers, 64 civilians, 65 dependents, nine cadets and 50 contractors.


PENTAGON GRAPPLES WITH CRISIS: The U.S. military is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, as service members seek to provide aid and protect themselves from infection.

The Department of Defense is engaging in a balancing act, deploying field hospitals to different cities facing severe outbreaks, while scaling back operations elsewhere. Military leaders said Thursday that 280 service members tested positive for COVID-19, and thousands of others in the U.S. and abroad are being monitored for potential exposure.

While the number of service members with the virus is relatively low, the military has still imposed tight restrictions as a precaution, scaling back on training new recruits, closing in-person recruiting centers, postponing major military exercises with allies and limiting travel.

Military leaders and experts both say the Pentagon could take other measures if the virus spreads further among service members, raising questions about whether readiness could be affected.

"If this pandemic continues at the scale and scope of what some are predicting, over time you could start seeing an impact on readiness ... But nothing to which I fear impacts our mission readiness to conduct our national missions," Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperRoundup: Everything you need to know about COVID-19 today 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic House chairmen demand explanation on Trump's 'illegal' withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty MORE said Monday.

Predictions: Top military officials have predicted the outbreak could last months as the number of impacted service members rises.

"I think we need to plan for this to be a few months long, at least, and we're taking all precautionary measures to do that," Esper said Tuesday during a virtual town hall meeting.

The Pentagon on Wednesday also reported its first positive case of a personnel member who works inside the building becoming infected with COVID-19, according to Defense One.

A contractor for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Saturday became the first military personnel to die as a result of the virus, the Pentagon announced Sunday.

Read more from Olivia Beavers.


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