Pentagon & Congress

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the military could throttle how much information it releases

The services saw another sharp uptick in confirmed coronavirus cases from Wednesday to Thursday, according to the Defense Department’s latest data, including a 32-percent rise both in troops with COVID-19 as well as DoD’s overall figure, which includes dependents, civilians and contractors.

At the same time, the Pentagon issued a statement Thursday announcing the possibility that it could tamp down on the details when it comes to specific numbers of cases in combat theaters or deployed units.

“Unit level readiness data for key military forces is information that is classified as a risk to operational security and could jeopardize operations and/or deterrence," Alyssa Farah, the Pentagon’s press secretary, told Military Times in a statement Thursday. "If at some point in the future, a commander believes that the coronavirus could affect the readiness of our strategic deterrent or strategic response forces we would understandably protect that information from public release and falling into the hands of our adversaries ― as we expect they would do the same.”

DoD’s current daily updates break down their cases by category of affiliated personnel, but not by location or unit. The individual services, combatant commands and installations have all been keeping their own accounts, however, and releasing those numbers to the press when asked.

There is a possibility that DoD could take over the official reporting entirely, in a case where a commander is concerned, for example, that publicizing an increasing number of deployed troops out of the fight with COVID-19 could threaten their units’ security.

In that case, the Pentagon’s daily update could become the only source of information on DoD-affiliated cases.

In the past 24 hours, the military’s 280 cases has raised its infection rate from 175-per-million to 210-per-million, while the U.S. in general is seeing a rate of 166-per-million, up from yesterday’s 135-per-million.

The reason for the difference is unclear even to the military.

“I’m honestly not sure,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, Joint Staff surgeon, told Military Times Wednesday when asked whether he could attribute the higher rate among troops to anything in particular.

Officials have often repeated, however, that the generally young and healthy ranks are at less risk for serious complications and death because of COVID-19, and that has panned out.

As of Thursday morning, 5 percent of infected troops are hospitalized, while 4 percent of dependents, civilians and contractors are in-patient. However, 24 service members have made a full recovery, compared with just one each of dependents, civilians and contractors. A Washington, D.C.-area DoD contractor died Saturday as a result of COVID-19.

In total, there are 134 DoD civilians, 98 dependents and 62 contractors who have been diagnosed.

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