The U.S. military has decided it will stop providing some of the more granular data about coronavirus infections within its ranks, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper revealed
The US Defense Department has issued a 60-day freeze to troop deployments to aid in further prevention of the spread of the coronavirus as cases jump by 30 percent on Wednesday
U.S. Sailors man the bridge of USS Boxer, just one of the U.S. warships hit by the coronavirus
The US military has decided it will stop providing some of the more granular data about coronavirus infections within its ranks out of concern that the information might be used by adversaries as the virus spreads.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper outlined the plan in an interview with Reuters, saying that he wanted the military to keep providing broader data about infections in the armed forces, which boasts well over one million active service members.
He also banned all troop movement overseas for 60 days to curb the spread of the coronavirus as cases among US service members rose by 30 percent to 280 cases on Thursday, a jump of 53.
A further 81 civilian employees, 67 dependents and 40 contractors have tested positive.
The freeze will affect 90,000 service members including those who were set to leave Afghanistan as part of a peace deal with the Taliban.
The largest increase in military cases has been seen in the United States but there are thousands more US military personnel in quarantine or in self-isolation in Europe and the Middle East due to exposure to a person with the coronavirus or recent travel to a high-risk area.
Esper, a former Army secretary, said he wanted some of the more mission-specific information to be withheld to prevent compromising operational security.
‘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, without disclosing precisely what information would be withheld or when the plan would be implemented.
The military has a small number infections compared to its one million plus forces but until now the locations of individual cases have been provided, including the first case in a US soldier in South Korea in February.
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Ernesto Santa Ana, right, and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Maria F. Potts-Szoke, work in Naval Medical Research Center’s mobile laboratory aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt where 23 cases of the coronavirus was confirmed Thursday
‘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 said.
‘The rate of infection and its impact is not hitting us at the levels that we have any concerns about right now,’ he added but noted that releasing information about troops overseas was dangerous for the safety of those in the fight against al-Shabaab in East Africa as well as Islamic State militants in Syria or Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the Navy revealed they had changed their policy to no longer supply information on which ship positive sailors serve on after over a dozen cases were discovered on various warships based in San Diego.
The policy said it would will now ‘only release the number of positive cases and the geographic location of those sailors’.
The largest increase in troops has been seen within the U.S. with 85 percent of cases in the Air Force based at home.
Ninety percent of 104 cases in the Navy at now based at home while the Army declined to reveal their figures, according to Yahoo! News.
Esper did not confirm that the threat of the coronavirus was greater for troops based at home than overseas but commented on it being easier to control the actions of troops and their families who are stationed outside of America.
‘You have far, far, far greater control of your servicemembers when you’re deployed abroad, even when you’re stationed abroad, than you do back in the United States,’ he said.
The number of those in quarantine and self-isolation has also not been revealed amid claims that it is not something the military want ‘to advertise’.
‘If advertised, numbers can be used by adversaries to their advantage,’ said Air Force Colonel Christopher Karns, a spokesman at the U.S. Africa Command.
On Wednesday, Esper also suspended all troop movement overseas for 60 days in attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the military.
The order applies to all US forces, civilian personnel and families, including those scheduled to return stateside and those scheduled to deploy.
‘This measure is taken to aid in further prevention of the spread of [COVID-19], to protect U.S. personnel and preserve the operational readiness of our global force,’ according to the DOD statement.
The order will be hardest felt in Afghanistan where US troops were scheduled to leave in accordance with a peace agreement with the Taliban but 90,000 service member will be affected in total.
The US headquarters overseeing operations in Afghanistan reported Tuesday that four service members who recently arrived in the country had tested positive for the virus and were placed into a separate quarantine.
Sailors prepare surgical equipment to be sterilized aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy which is on its way to Los Angeles to aid with the coronavirus
Exceptions will be granted to those needing medical treatment and Navy ship deployments if they will be in transit for 14 days.
‘The purpose is to make sure that we’re not bringing the virus back home, infecting others, that we’re not spreading it around the military,’ Esper told Reuters.
The Pentagon froze domestic travel for service members, civilian employees and their family members until May 11 earlier this month.
The news also comes as a total of 23 cases were confirmed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, currently underway in the Pacific, after three people were airlifted from the ship on Tuesday.
Four patients in total have now been airlifted out for treatment at a medical facility in Guam as the number of cases on the ship rose by 20 in a day.