Coronavirus cases among Army personnel have reached 45, service leadership said Friday, but they need to increase testing capacity at hospitals across Army installations.
That number includes 21 soldiers, six Department of the Army civilian employees, eight family members and ten contractors, said Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy at the Pentagon.
The Army has eight soldiers in medical treatment facilities after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, said Army surgeon general Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle.
“This afternoon, it could go higher,” Dingle added. “But again, the soldiers who have been identified as positive with COVID, they are in proper treatment and care.”
Those are just positive cases in isolation. There are far more soldiers in isolation facilities who have shown possible coronavirus symptoms, but who have not yet officially tested positive.
It’s impossible to know at any given time the number of soldiers in isolation, according to Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, the Army’s deputy chief of staff of operations, plans and training.
“I don’t have a number, because it changes hourly,” Flynn said. “Every senior commander on his installation back here in the continental United States has to create isolation facilities and quarantine facilities. The better part of 7-10 days ago, senior commanders had to start doing that.”
Some quarantine facilities are empty barracks. Others are tent cities outside large Army posts that resemble forward operating bases downrange. Those quarantine sites are occupied by soldiers returning from overseas deployments.
The latest medical data shows that the coronavirus hits younger populations worse than originally believed. That is relevant to the armed forces, which heavily relies on young, typically healthy adults.
Knowing that reality prompted the Army to implement pandemic emergency preparedness plans, which take into account rises in illnesses among soldiers and their families, Dingle said.
“We are prepared for an increased wave,” he added. As it stands, the Army is still limited by its swabbing and machine testing capacity.
Service officials are trying to expand testing capabilities at nine certified medical facilities across Army posts in the next three weeks. Over the course of the next 30 days, the Army wants to expand testing capability to smaller medical facilities.
“There are pieces along this supply chain that the Medical Research and Development Command are going to help procure to increase capacity,” said Army Sec. McCarthy. “As [Defense] Sec. Esper said the other day, the Department of Defense will over and above take care of the force to support the civilian population.”
“So it’s as much about increasing our stocks as supporting it from a national perspective,” McCarthy added.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.