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How badly has coronavirus hit the US military? Pentagon circles wagons on data to safeguard troops abroad

The Department of Defense has said that the media will only be updated with the number of soldiers hit by the virus and not those specific to the bases
UPDATED MAR 31, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Like the rest of the civilian society, the US' defense establishment has also been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. Over 1,000 have been reported positive in the Pentagon and on March 30, a US service member died after testing positive. Key army members have also been sent to isolation in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex to prevent the outbreak from further affecting the military.

The Pentagon has also asked its bases and installations to not reveal the specific number of coronavirus cases affecting the soldiers so that America's potential enemies do not gain an upper edge. Overall in the US, 163,087 people have been affected while at least 3,000 lives have been lost.

NBC News on March 30 cited a spokesperson for the Department of Defense to say that the figures indicating the number of soldiers hit by the virus will be released to the media but they will not be broken down specifically for each base. 

"If a commander believes that COVID-19 could affect the readiness of our strategic deterrent or strategic response forces, we understandably protect that information from public release and falling into the hands of our adversaries — as we expect they would do the same," Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman said.

As of March 30 morning, 633 active military service members tested positive for COVID-19, reported Daily Mail. Of them, 64 recovered while 26 were hospitalized. The Defense Department said 220 civilian employees tested positive besides 190 dependents and 64 contractors. One contractor and a dependent died. 

Defense Secretary is cautious about revealing data

Last week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview with Reuters that he wanted the army to keep providing broader data about infections in the armed forces. He also stopped all troop movements in foreign countries for 60 days to prevent further spread of the virus. This ban was set to affect 90,000 service members, including those who were about to leave Afghanistan as part of the peace deal with the Taliban. 

"What we want to do is give you aggregated numbers. But we're not going to disaggregate numbers because it could reveal information about where we may be affected at a higher rate than maybe some other places," Esper said.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks as President Donald Trump listens during a news briefing on the coronavirus outbreak in the US at the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House March 18, 2020, in Washington, DC (Getty Images)

"I'm not going to get into a habit where we start providing numbers across all the commands and we come to a point six, seven weeks from now where we have some concerns in some locations and reveal information that could put people at risk," Esper, a former army secretary, added. 

"The rate of infection and its impact is not hitting us at the levels that we have any concerns about right now," Esper said but added that releasing information about troops overseas could be detrimental for the safety of those who are stationed in critical zones such as East Africa, Syria or Afghanistan. 

The Navy also said last week that they changed their policy to no longer provide supply information on ship(s) on which positive soldiers were serving. The move was made after a dozen cases were discovered on various warships in San Diego. The navy’s current policy is only releasing the number of positive cases and the geographic location of the affected sailors. 

Esper did not confirm that the threat of the virus is far greater for troops located at home than overseas but said it is easier to control the actions of the troops and their families that are stationed overseas.