Pentagon orders local units to stop reporting coronavirus infections amid security concerns
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 29, 2020
Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See other free reports here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.
STUTTGART, Germany — The Pentagon on Sunday ordered the home of U.S. European Command to stop reporting the number of coronavirus infections within its military community in a move that could reverberate across all U.S. forces.
The Army in Stuttgart said it can no longer release the number of coronavirus cases based on a Defense Department directive that cited operational security concerns.
“DoD will release numbers through their official platforms,” the Army in Stuttgart said in a statement.
The decision comes amid a spike in infections within the military and concerns that the combat readiness of the force could be put at risk by the fast-moving virus.
Such concerns came into focus last week when the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier was forced to pull into port in Guam because of a coronavirus outbreak among its sailors.
In Stuttgart, home to EUCOM and U.S. Africa Command headquarters, 80 infections were reported as of Sunday morning, by far the most of any American military base overseas. In all, there are at least 125 coronavirus infections within the military in Germany alone, based on a Stars and Stripes tally of infections.
Meanwhile, the military in Japan also has begun to record coronavirus infections. After about a half dozen cases emerged since Thursday, commanders ordered troops on the island to shelter in place.
In South Korea, similar measures have been taken. The situation was serious enough that Gen. Robert Abrams, the top commander on the divided Korean Peninsula, said he was willing to impose strict new health measures that could jeopardize military readiness.
“This morning we went to bare bones minimum, watch teams only in the headquarters, everybody basically shelter in place, only go out for the essentials,” Abrams said Friday.
Col. Jason Condrey, garrison commander in Stuttgart, advised his military community of 28,000 Americans that he no longer would be providing updates on infection numbers, which is something the garrison has done regularly since cases began to emerge.
“I can’t do that any longer” Condrey said in a Facebook posting Sunday night.
Since cases surged in Stuttgart, the military has taken a range of measures to curtail the virus' spread. In addition to closing numerous services, the garrison ramped up testing with a drive-thru site and a brief effort to sample community members without symptoms.
“The virus is likely everywhere,” Condrey said Sunday.