Analysis / Forces

Covid-19 Response Update: November 20-December 7

Combating Covid-19 Series

This is CSIS’s roundup of major updates on the military and the novel coronavirus since Saturday, November 20. It explores what the military has done to combat Covid-19 and how the military has in turn been affected by the virus.

Major Updates

  • The discovery of the new Omicron Variant of Covid-19, named after skipping various letters of the Greek alphabet for political reasons, created uncertainty about the state of recovery from Covid-19. The United States restricted travel to Southern Africa, which was the first location that reported it, even though is currently not thought to be the origin. The Omicron variant has since appeared in multiple places, with the first American case being discovered in California.
  • Responding to fear of the Omicron Variant, Japan again restricted entry to foreigners. While not affecting US Servicemembers and their families, it makes things difficult for international students and permanent residents of Japan.
  • In a memo addressed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Defense Secretary Austin stated that all National Guard units should follow parent service guidelines (Army for Army National Guard, Air Force for Air National Guard) regarding Covid-19 vaccine mandates. In the same memo, Secretary Austin stated that DoD funds should not be used to pay drilling Guardsmen who did not receive the vaccine, nor should they accept credit or excused absence for missing drill due to being delinquent. This memo is in response to the Governor of Oklahoma exempting OK National Guardsman from departmental guidance. This standoff represents a grey area, as National Guard troops answer to the governor of their state as their commander-in-chief unless federalized but are administratively tied to the Department of Defense through the National Guard Bureau. The Department of Defense is also the primary funder of the National Guard.
  • The Governor and Attorney General of Oklahoma is now suing the Department of Defense to prevent the enforcement of the Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
  • The Navy announced that its force is currently 97 percent vaccinated. However, up to 5 percent of the Marine Corps remains unvaccinated. The DoD has previously stated that uncompliant personnel could be discharged due to disobeying the vaccine mandate. So far, none have been discharged.
  • As the Department of the Air Force deadline for Covid-19 vaccination passes, over 23,500 Airmen and Guardians remain unvaccinated. Many of the unvaccinated come from reserve elements. Members who are delinquent on vaccine requirements cannot complete permanent change of station (PCS) orders or deploy, and if they remain non-deployable for over a year, can be administratively separated.

Military Cases of Covid-19

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.