Analysis / Covid-19

Covid-19 Response Update: March 27-April 3

Combating Covid-19 Series

This update provides CSIS’s roundup of the major ways the military has stepped up to combat the novel coronavirus over the past week and how the military in turn has been affected by the virus.

The military continues its support to civil authorities with National Guard personnel, the provision of supplies, and some deployments of active-duty units. Within the last week, a major new theme has arisen: military readiness and operations versus force protection. The military services have tried to maintain core military training and overseas deployments. However, as cases of infection rise, some voices have argued that in order to protect its people the military should implement the same shelter-in-place restrictions that the civilian society has implemented.

Context: The World and Nation

As of this Friday morning, the United States has 245,573 confirmed cases of Covid-19, up from 86,000 last Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The worldwide total of confirmed cases has nearly doubled since last Friday, reaching 1,030,628. The White House has now extended social distancing guidelines to the end of April, while presenting projections of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths as a result of the pandemic.

Military Cases of Covid-19

  • April 3: There are 1,648 current cases of novel coronavirus within the Department of Defense. Of these, 978 were military service members, 256 dependents, 306 civilians, and 108 contractors. 84 of these cases required hospitalization, and there have been six deaths.

Impact of Covid-19 on Ongoing Military Operations

Active Duty Covid-19 Operations

National Guard and Reserve 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) ruled out for now.


The readiness theme of the last few weeks has been the effect on training and skills as the military services moved to remote operations and canceled large exercises and conferences. The effect was of the same magnitude as the 2013 sequestration and furloughs resulting from the Budget Control Act of 2011. Suspension of basic training and some deployments threaten to take damaging effects on readiness to a new level.

Bases and Infrastructure


  • March 27: Pres. Trump issues order allowing extensions on active duty (“stoploss”) and recall of reservists from retirement and the Individual Ready Reserve (an inactive reserve status). So far, the services have not used these authorities, relying on volunteers instead, but may if certain skills become short, like medical personnel, or if end strength begins to decline because basic training has ceased.
  •  April 1: Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein speculated that the Covid-19 pandemic may help address the U.S. Air Force’s persisting pilot shortage by improving U.S. Air Force pilot retention. With the pandemic devastating civilian airlines, more USAF aviators may choose to stay in the active service longer while more Air National Guard pilots may be available as with diminishing civilian airline jobs.

Supplies and Logistics

Defense Industry


What to Look for Next Week

National Guard activations will continue. Support from active duty forces will likely increase but be limited since these forces are focused on overseas operations and coping with the disease themselves.

The tension between military readiness and force protection will build as DOD copes with more and more infections. Virtually all military training could cease.

If civilian personnel restrictions are applied to the military and training ceases, then global military deployments will also cease and with it a large element of U.S. global presence. Presence arising from permanent bases will continue.


This weekly update is made possible by the International Security Program at CSIS. The authors particularly thank Jeffery Benson, James Dailey, Jason Gresh, Timothy Goyer, Andrew Hunter, Mark McDonnell, and John Schaus for their contributions to the update.

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

TAGS: , , ,

Cite this Page

Mark Cancian and Adam Saxton, "Covid-19 Response Update: March 27-April 3," Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 3, 2020, last modified April 3, 2020,