Health and Science

Pentagon sees uptick in coronavirus cases in military as major holidays approach

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Key Points
  • The Pentagon recently recorded more than 1,300 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 among the sister service branches, a new record for the military in a 24-hour period.
  • Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Tuesday that the Defense Department is taking steps to mitigate the spread of the disease.
  • The USS Michael Murphy, a guided-missile destroyer assigned to the Pacific fleet, was pulled from training earlier this month as nearly a quarter of the roughly 300 sailors aboard the vessel tested positive for Covid-19.
A Paratrooper assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, prepares for a Airborne Operation at Fort Bragg, N.C., on May 7.
Spc. Hubert Delany III | US Army

WASHINGTON — In recent weeks, the Defense Department has reported a Covid-19 outbreak aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer, a new record of 1,300 coronavirus cases in the ranks and an infection within the Pentagon.

"We've seen a general uptick in Covid-19 positive cases as we head into the holiday season," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Tuesday, adding that the Defense Department is taking steps to mitigate the spread of the disease.

The Pentagon will shift on Nov. 26 to a stricter health protection level, HPCON Bravo-Plus, which will limit the number of people inside the Pentagon and will double the number of temperature checks on workers entering the building. The food court within the Pentagon will also move to take-out only.

"These changes are based on authorities delegated in March, giving commanders the flexibility to respond in the best interest of their personnel by maintaining mission effectiveness," Hoffman said. "We will of course keep everyone posted on additional force condition level changes," he added.

The Pentagon also recorded more than 1,300 newly confirmed cases of Covid-19 among the sister service branches, a new record for the military in a 24-hour period. Defense officials have previously said that a surge of positive cases does not impact operations, readiness or U.S. national security.

Since the coronavirus emerged, the Pentagon has reported a total of 110,982 cases; of those, 74,992 are active-duty military, 18,162 are civilians, 11,030 are dependents and 6,798 are contractors. These figures include 67,165 recoveries and 124 deaths across the entire department.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon pulled to the sidelines a U.S. Navy vessel after a fresh outbreak on the ship.

The USS Michael Murphy, a guided-missile destroyer assigned to the Pacific fleet, was pulled from training as nearly a quarter of the roughly 300 sailors aboard the vessel tested positive for Covid-19.

The ship, now docked at Pearl Harbor, is being cleaned while the crew quarantines in Hawaii.

In March, the coronavirus swept through the decks of the U.S. Navy's USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier underway in the Pacific.

Read more: Nearly entire crew of coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier tested, 9 treated for symptoms

The growing outbreak threatening the crew aboard the Roosevelt was foreshadowed in a leaked letter penned by the ship's captain. 

Capt. Brett Crozier urged senior military leaders in a four-page letter to take dramatic steps to safeguard the sailors aboard the Roosevelt.

"We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors," Crozier wrote in the letter dated March 30. "The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating."

Shortly after the letter became public, Crozier was relieved of his command by then-acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly. Crozier is believed to have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Modly doubled down on his decision to relieve Crozier and called the former vessel's captain "naive" and "stupid." Hours later Modly issued an apology to the Navy. Backlash mounted against Modly's firing and followed President Donald Trump's own suggestion he might get involved in the crisis.

A day later, Modly handed in his resignation to then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The Defense secretary then announced that he had tapped James McPherson, undersecretary of the Army, to be the new acting Navy secretary.

In April, the Navy confirmed the death of one sailor assigned to the coronavirus-stricken vessel.