Coronavirus cases in the military community surpass 200, as Pentagon announces death of DOD contractor

Biomedical equipment specialist Willie Kendricks conducts depot-level maintenance on a ventilator at Tobyhanna Army Depot, Pa., March 23, 2020.


By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 23, 2020

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WASHINGTON — Cases of coronavirus in the military community neared 250 worldwide, including the Defense Department’s first pandemic-linked death and spurring new measures taken at installations in the United States, Pentagon officials said Monday.

Officials at bases in Alaska, Hawaii and Texas announced new cases of the fast-spreading virus among troops there, and Pentagon officials said 137 service members worldwide had tested positive for the disease as of early Monday. Seven of those service members were hospitalized and four had recovered from the virus, according a Pentagon news release.

Other cases included 45 Defense Department civilian workers, 35 military dependents and 32 contractors, the Pentagon said. One of the contractors, a man in his 60s who worked in Arlington, Va., died Saturday, marking the first reported DOD-related death, officials said.

The new statistics show a substantive rise among troops and other DOD-linked individuals in the last week, as the virus spreads and larger numbers of individuals are tested, especially in the United States. The Pentagon on March 17, for example, reported only 59 cases across its community, including 36 service members. Johns Hopkins University said as of early Monday afternoon at least 35,530 individuals in the United States had tested positive for the virus.

The defense contractor’s death was announced Sunday. He had been hospitalized since March 10 with symptoms consistent with the coronavirus, but it was not clear precisely when he was confirmed to have the fast-spreading virus, Air Force Lt. Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Monday.

The Pentagon did not name the contractor, citing federal privacy law. Gleason said she did not know his exact age, but he was older than 60. He had been working at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, at its headquarters in Crystal City, an Arlington neighborhood just blocks from the Pentagon. Gleason said the man occasionally visited the Pentagon, but he had not been in the building since February.

In its announcement of the death, the Pentagon said the contractor’s workstation at DSCA had been thoroughly cleaned after his positive test, and his coworkers had been teleworking since that time.

The contractor worked as an information technology professional at DSCA, which trains and equips foreign allied and partner nations to work alongside the U.S. military. But he worked directly for DOD’s Washington D.C.-area IT hub, known as the Joint Service Provider, which supplies IT capabilities to some 38,000 defense officials at the Pentagon and across the Washington area, said a defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide information about the contractor.

The contractor had not traveled internationally for business recently, Gleason said. Officials at DSCA did not respond Monday to requests for additional information.

The coronavirus case in Alaska marked the first confirmed case for a service member in that state. The case in Hawaii was at least the second.

The Alaska case spurred the commander at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to declare a public health emergency Sunday and elevate the health safety precautions at the Army and Air Force base in Anchorage.

The precautions include going to mission-essential personnel only and the base day cares are only open for children of those personnel, according to a news release from the base. People on base are asked only to leave home when necessary and to practice social distancing while they are out.

Across the state, 32 people are confirmed to have the virus and seven of those tests were conducted by Elmendorf-Richardson’s 673rd Medical Group, according to the release. Those people are following guidelines by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention under the supervision of the medical groups’ public health office.

“As the possibility of catching [coronavirus] within Alaska increases, you'll see the focus switch from ‘contain and prevent’ efforts to ‘mitigate and sustain,’” according to the release.

JBER is at least the third base in the United States that has issued a public health emergency declaration. Emergencies were declared last week at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

In Hawaii, a Marine tested positive for coronavirus at Camp H.M. Smith, according to a release from the Marine Corps on Sunday.

“The Marine returned Friday from training and annual leave on the U.S. mainland, and proceeded to Tripler Army Medical Center with symptoms of [a coronavirus] infection,” Marine Corps Forces Pacific said in a statement.

Camp H.M. Smith, on Oahu, is the headquarters for Marine Corps Forces Pacific and Indo-Pacific Command.

There are now at least two service members to test positive in Hawaii. On Saturday, the Army reported a 25th Infantry Division soldier stationed at Schofield Barracks tested positive for coronavirus. Statewide, the Hawaii Department of Health reported 58 cases of coronavirus.

Fort Hood, an Army base in central Texas, announced Monday that a male soldier in his 30s tested positive for the coronavirus — the first among the nearly 37,000 active-duty service members on base. The soldier is assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and self-isolating at his off-base residence. Other soldiers who might have been in contact with him are self-quarantined in their residences, according to a base news release.

Fort Bliss, which is in west Texas, announced it has four positive cases, all from an in-bound Army Reserve unit. Those soldiers were immediately isolated and interviewed to determine with whom they might have been in contact, according to a news release from the base located in El Paso.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday that the Pentagon was instrumental in the federal government’s response to the pandemic, which has left much of the United States at a near-standstill as public health officials urge individuals to stay home as much as possible.

He said more than 7,500 National Guard troops had been deployed in response, and the Navy’s hospital ship USNS Mercy was set to deploy Monday to Los Angeles from its homeport in San Diego.

Stars and Stripes reporters Rose L. Thayer and Seth Robson contributed to this story.

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Capt. Ed Thompson, deputy commander of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7, and Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo Capt. Brad Stallings speak during an All Command Meeting, Mar. 23, 2020, at Sasebo, Japan. The event was held in a larger space to remain consistent with social distancing practices amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

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