The Army appears to be coming to terms with the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, following the dissemination of a new fragmentary order on Thursday.
“Mitigation measures taken by the Army to blunt the spread of COVID-19 have proven insufficient," reads the order, which was posted to a web portal for military personnel.
Army headquarters in Washington, D.C., ordered all of its installations to assume health protection condition level Charlie on Wednesday, restricting work to essential personnel only and limiting access points onto bases.
The new order comes with more vivid language to the force, and could mean stricter measures are on the horizon.
“COVID-19 continues to spread geographically as the number of infected persons continues to rise,” the latest order reads. "Civilian capability and capacity are becoming more stressed as dense population centers continue to report higher rates of infection that are impacting major transportation hubs and supply chains. Additional measures and actions are required to protect the force from further spread of COVID-19.”
“We’re still crammed inside tents with hundreds of people sleeping within 2-3 feet of each other," one troop said. "Using latrines with no hand soaps in them.”
The new order includes a note stating that it rescinds the previous one, but HPCON Charlie is still in effect across all installations, said an Army spokesperson. The order includes further guidance to post commanders and unit leaders, the spokesperson added, though Army Times did not have access to that specific language.
The extra guidance is intended to help leaders make better decisions about how to handle the pandemic at the unit level, where results were initially poor early in the week but have gradually gotten better, soldiers who spoke to Army Times said.
On Wednesday, the Army deputy chief of staff for manpower, Lt. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands, sent an email to former service members who held medical jobs in the service to gauge their interest in returning to duty if the situation surrounding the pandemic worsens.
The Army has also dispatched three active duty field hospital units to New York and Washington states to help governors there combat the pandemic as it overwhelms hospitals.
Before more changes were made Wednesday, many soldiers complained to Army Times about their post commanders’ decisions to continue training through the pandemic. Leaders generally said that troops are safer when isolated in the training environment. Several soldiers disputed that, telling Army Times that people were “coming and going” between the field and post regularly.