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Pentagon orders local units to stop reporting coronavirus infections amid security concerns

Jakawana Minton, a civilian at the U.S. Army garrison in Stuttgart, gets screened for the coronavirus at a drive-THRU site next to the health clinic on Patch Barracks March 19, 2020. Coronavirus screening at the U.S. Army garrison in Stuttgart was expanded to include symptom-free people who live in apartment buildings or work in customer service, officials said Sunday, March 23, 2020.

JOHN VANDIVER/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 29, 2020

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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.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver