WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense announced Monday it will keep the two highest-ranking Pentagon officials, Secretary Mark Esper and deputy David Norquist, physically separated from each other as a precaution to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
"Starting today, the secretary and the deputy secretary of Defense remain physically separated," Jonathan Hoffman, assistant defense secretary for public affairs, told a handful of reporters at the Pentagon and many more on a teleconference line.
"That means that they and their staff will only interact via teleconference. We are screening people that are entering the secretary's suite and limiting the number of people who have access as well," he added.
The Pentagon reservation employs more than 22,000 people, making it one of the largest office buildings in the world.
The virus — which has already killed more than 7,000 people and infected more than 179,000 people around the world — is spreading from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the largest of all geographic combatant commands.
Currently, there are 37 known cases of COVID-19 within the Department of Defense: 18 active-duty service members, three civil servants, 13 dependents and three contractors.
"At the Department of Defense, we are set up so that our commanders and our leaders can do their jobs from anywhere in the world at any time. We are able to take advantage of that probably to an extent that even major companies and others aren't able to. So, we are going to continue to do what we need to protect the leadership and the workforce," Hoffman said.