Update: On May 7, 2021, the Joint Staff confirmed that Morris’s death was related to complications from COVID-19.
The Air Force said Friday that the recent death of an airman at Aviano Air Base in Italy may have been caused by COVID-19.
Tech. Sgt. Michael Morris, of the 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, died Tuesday, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa said in a release Thursday.
The release did not announce the cause of his death, and said it was under investigation. In response to an Air Force Times inquiry, USAFE confirmed Friday that Morris had COVID-19 at the time of his death.
Aviano is treating Morris’ death as a potential COVID-19 death, and is taking all precautions necessary, USAFE said. But the Air Force is awaiting the results of Morris’ autopsy before confirming the cause of death.
Morris’ commanders mourned his loss in statements.
“The airmen of the 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Aviano are deeply saddened by this loss,” Maj. Christopher Clark, the squadron’s commander, said in Thursday’s release. “Mike was well-known and highly respected in our community. He was a friend to many,l and we’ll miss him dearly.”
“Our heartfelt sympathies are with the airman’s family, friends and co-workers,” said Brig. Gen. Jason Bailey, commander of the 31st Fighter Wing. “Our priorities are honoring Mike’s life and supporting those affected by this death.”
If Morris’ death is confirmed to have been caused by COVID-19, it would make him the first known active-duty airman, and 16th known service member overall, to have died from the virus, according to Defense Department statistics. Two members of the Air National Guard also died of COVID in November.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.