Covid-19 Response Update: April 17-April 24
Combating Covid-19 Series
This is CSIS’s weekly roundup of major updates on the military and the novel coronavirus since Friday, April 17. It explores how the military has stepped up to combat Covid-19 and how the military has in turn been affected by the virus.
National Guard activations continue to increase but active duty deployments may have reached a plateau. The tension between military readiness/operations and force protection may be stabilizing. The military services are devising ways to maintain core activities, though at a lower level of readiness and having shut down many non-emergency activities.
DoD has maintained a robust outreach program, with daily briefings about its activities during the pandemic and a daily update distributed to news organizations and think tanks.
Context: The World and Nation
As of this Friday morning, the United States has had 869,172 confirmed cases of Covid-19, about 200,000 more than last Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The worldwide total stands at 2,732,445.
The national debate has shifted to reopening, as protesters demand that activities restart while health officials caution that it is too soon. The president published guidelines on restarting the economy, but critics argue that the required level of testing is not available.
Military Cases of Covid-19
From the numbers, the Navy appears to have the largest number of Covid-19 cases, but this is likely a reflection of broader testing in the Navy connected with USS Roosevelt and ship deployments. As of April 22, 26 Navy ships reportedly have cases of Covid-19. All of these ships are currently in port or maintenance, and a further 90 ships at sea have no reported cases.
- April 24: As of Friday, there are 8,186 confirmed cases of coronavirus within the Department of Defense. Of the current cases, 3,919 were military service members, 814 dependents, 1,057 civilians, and 423 contractors. 281 of these cases required hospitalization, and there have been 26 deaths. 1,947 have recovered. How DoD cases have been trending over time is broken down below, by total cases; active cases in the DoD; and across the military services.
Impact of Covid-19 on Ongoing Military Operations
- April 21: Army Futures Command moves some events online but cannot 100 percent replicate in person training events. Lieutenant General Eric Wesley, the commander of the Army’s Futures and Concept Center, said that while certain events, like the Joint Warfighter Assessment, had to be cancelled, some events will be moved online. But these tabletop exercises will be limited in what they can portray, due to limitations in presenting classified information over existing collaboration platforms. In particular, a ‘MDO’ (Multi-Domain Operations) exercise scheduled for May had to be modified due to the transition. The event will examine how the Army ‘calibrates force posture’ in a future ‘competition phase’ in the Pacific.
- April 22: The United States will withdraw about 1,000 at-risk civilian contractors from Afghanistan due to insufficient medical capacity in the country.
Active Duty and Reserve Covid-19 Operations
Active duty and reserve operations come under the command of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM). (National Guard operations come under the command of the state governors.) NORTHCOM announced its general approach to providing medical support to the civilian community based on lessons learned from New York:
- Embedding DoD medical professionals in hospitals experiencing staff shortages.
- Extending capacity at civilian hospitals by providing modular DoD medical capabilities.
- Operating from a fully equipped alternate care facility.
Missing from the list is standalone military medical facilities. The lesson learned is apparently that military medical personnel are better used enhancing civilian capabilities and linking into the local medical networks rather than trying to establish their own.
Hospital ships Comfort and Mercy deployed to New York and Los Angeles, respectively. Three temporary hospitals deployed to New York City. Medical teams deployed to New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Louisiana.
- April 19: Nearly 1,000 patients have been treated at Javits Center field hospital in New York since it opened.
- April 22: Hospital ships Comfort and Mercy may be reaching the end of their deployments. Neither ship has treated a large number of patients, and their deployments have had more of a symbolic value than an actual medical capacity value. Mercy had previously shifted from treating patients on board to sending medical personnel out to civilian facilities. Comfort’s capacity was not needed after the large Javits Convention Center temporary hospital opened, and it will likely depart soon for Norfolk, VA.
- April 21: Of 27,000 who volunteered to come back into the Army to fight Covid-19, only a few hundred will be accepted. Lieutenant General Thomas Seamands said that of the initial number, only around 6,000 possessed the medical skills and qualifications needed. Coupled with the fact that some decided to stay with their communities to assist, the added requirement of a security clearance also presented a hurdle to processing back into the Army. Major General Joseph Calloway, who heads up the Army’s Human Resources Command, said the process of bringing soldiers back into the Army was “actually a bit more involved than even we initially planned.” The soldiers who are admitted back into the force will initially serve for 179 days.
National Guard Covid-19 Operations
National Guard units are being activated in a state role (Article 32) to combat the coronavirus and enforce order. Nationalization (Title 10) is ruled out for now. The Guard has maintained its supporting role and not engaged in law enforcement. The below graphic displays how National Guard activations have grown over time in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- April 24: 43,700 Army and Air National Guard activated to assist with Covid-19 response efforts. This is a 32 percent (10,700) increase from the week before. Still, this represents a small part of the 443,000 servicemembers in the Army and Air Force National Guard.
- A broader list of recent state National Guard efforts can be found here.
- April 21: USS Roosevelt remains tied up in Guam. Crew offloaded except for cadre staff to look after the reactor and munitions. About 700 sailors have tested positive for Covid-19, about 15 percent of the crew; one has died. The Air Force is building a small temporary medical facility for Roosevelt crew members. Some crewmembers have tested positive after the 14-day quarantine period. This may prevent the ship from getting underway to maintain all of its certifications. If that does not happen soon, then it may need to return to San Diego. The future of former commander, CAPT Brett Crozier will be announced soon. As of April 23, the Navy reported that all of its crew were tested for Covid-19 and over 800 sailors had tested positive.
- April 21: The USS Nimitz is being kept in a 14-day pier-side isolation at Bremerton, WA in preparation for its upcoming deployment. Its carrier air wing in California is observing a similar period of quarantine. The Navy has procured enough kits to test the entire strike group before deployment.
Personnel, Bases, and Infrastructure
The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard had paused basic training. The Air Force continued basic training with a 60 percent reduction in throughput with the addition of a satellite facility at Keesler AFB to allow more social distancing.
- April 20: The Army is to resume basic training after two week pause, but with plans to increase daily testing and some restrictions, like a 14-day initial classroom period to evaluate the recruits’ health. They will be closely monitored and will adhere to social distancing guidelines during the training curriculum, which will be modified to make health monitoring easier. Recently there was a cluster of 50 positive cases at Ft. Jackson, SC, but no new cases have been identified since then.
- General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said that he wants to increase testing to around 60K per day, in order to properly assess the spread of the novel coronavirus.
- April 21: The Coast Guard received 48 new recruits after temporarily pausing shipments due to Covid-19. They will enter a 14-day restriction of movement before starting regular basic training.
- April 22: The Marine Corps has resumed sending recruits to Parris Island Basic Training with new limitations, to include a 14-day isolation period. The Commandant of the Marine Corps has also suspended the requirement to conduct the Physical Fitness Test as part of annual training, indicating a willingness to prioritize force protection ahead of some training requirements.
- April 17: The Coast Guard is conducting a service-wide accountability survey to assess personnel readiness due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey will aid the Coast Guard with strategic-level decision making, resource allocation, and mission advocacy.
- April 17: The Coast Guard will continue with 2020 permanent change of station moves in a bi-weekly fashion to enable members to execute orders to their new duty stations. Members will be required to complete a “float plan” before moving themselves or dependents.
- April 20: Travel restrictions extended to June 30. Initially announced last week, the extended travel restrictions became official with publication of a DoD directive. The “stop movement” applies to all official travel, domestic and international. There are exceptions for basic and advanced training, patients, operational deployments with a 14-day quarantine period, and separation from the service. However, the extended restrictions will disrupt peak military family movement times.
- April 20: Civilian hiring continues according to the FAQs about travel restrictions.
- April 20: OMB published guidance for reopening the federal government. This guidance parallels the national guidelines and devolves decisions to agencies based on local conditions. The guidance directs continued telework, facility cleaning, social distancing, temperature checks, and continued restrictions on travel.
- April 21: NORTHCOM adopts a series of protective measures for personnel in vital (“no fail”) missions such as early warning radars during the pandemic.
- April 22: General John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the JCS, announced that the Secretary had approved a four-phased plan to test the force for Covid-19. The first phase would be critical capabilities like nuclear forces, then troops in combat zones and those fighting the pandemic, then troops overseas, and finally all others. The full program would take all summer.
- April 22: The Army offers short-term enlistment extensions to induce more soldiers to stay during the pandemic. This is similar to efforts across the force.
Supplies and Logistics
Army Corps of Engineers
The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) comes under the direction of the Secretary of the Army but is not part of DoD’s military activities or the DoD military budget. Its activities are extensive, and construction activity is still growing although assignments may have plateaued.
FEMA Mission Assignments: 48
Alternate Care Facilities (ACFs): 32 under construction, 6 facilities pending contract, 11 complete.
- April 20: The Army Corps of Engineers Commander says the Corps may have built too many hospital beds. Since taking on the task around 35 days ago, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has created capacity for around 116K beds at 28 different care facilities around the country. Seven more are in the works. Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, the commander of USACE, said at a Pentagon press briefing that this is ultimately okay with this as it is like an “investment to build it. It’s almost like insurance; it’s a good reserve.”
AEI’s COVID-19 Manufacturing Tracker, which lists hundreds of companies responding to the pandemic, still shows just two instances of the government’s use of Defense Production Act authorities.
DoD asks companies to continue working but allows those that wish to close to do so.
- April 20: Under Secretary for Acquisition & Sustainment Ellen Lord indicated that DoD is working with OMB to request “billions” in additional funds to offset added Covid-19-related costs in acquisition programs as part of future Covid-19 relief legislation. She also stated that the DoD expects a three-month slowdown on major defense acquisition programs. These reduced work levels along with paid leave will delay programs and increase costs.
- April 20: DCMA data shows that 106 out of 10,509 primary Pentagon contractors are closed and 68 companies have closed and then reopened. Of 11,413 subcontractors, 427 are closed, with 147 having closed and reopened.
- April 20: Under Secretary Ellen Lord detailed that of $1B in DPA Title III Funds provided in the CARES Act, $250M is being allocated for priority supply chain issues within the defense industrial base. The other $750M is targeted for medical equipment and supplies.
- April 22: Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri reopened its production facilities, following a month of closure.
- April 22: The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted Lockheed Martin’s supply chain, which may lead to a slowdown in deliveries of the F-35 joint strike fighter.
DoD “streamlining” budget review to allow more employees to telework. DoD received $10.5 billion in the CARES Act for pandemic-related health activities and military operations.
None this week but DoD reported looking to fund items unrelated to Covid-19 in future stimulus legislation but justified by helping employment.
What to Look for Next Week
Continue to watch the USS Nimitz as it gets closer to deployment. If it can stay infection-free and deploy, then the Navy has a model for how to continue operations in a Covid-19 environment. If not, then the broad spectrum of military deployments, naval and other, may not be viable.
Watch service basic training. After a pause, the services are working to get training restarted. Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force basic training are now operating. Expect the Navy and Coast Guard to reopen their basic training. If successful, then the military services will be able to maintain their personnel strength. If they must shut down again, then there will be long term readiness degradations.
This weekly update is made possible by the International Security Program at CSIS. The authors particularly thank James Dailey, Jason Gresh, Andrew Hunter, Mark McDonnell, and Brian Mulvihill for their contributions to the update.
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)