Since the devastating arrival of the pandemic in North America, the Pentagon has been preoccupied with the incredibly difficult task of finding a balance between protecting the health of the troops on the one hand, while also maintaining optimum defense readiness while rivals like China and Russia look on.
Nothing illustrates this more than the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier fiasco, which saw a public fight emerge among the Navy's top brass over what to do when last month eventually more than 1,000 sailors tested positive for COVID-19. The ship's commander, subsequently relieved of duty by a Secretary of the Navy who himself was fired over scathing comments regarding the Roosevelt's leadership, also caught the virus.
And now the virus is threatening to rip through the top echelons of the Department of Defense, as over the weekend top commanders and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been sidelined by COVID-19 exposure. This also suggests — as has already long been a major concern — the virus' closer proximity to the White House, after Pence staffers as well as Secret Service members were infected.
First, Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Joseph Lengyel and a member of the Joint Chiefs, tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday. But strangely, he actually tested negative in a follow-up test on Sunday, and is now reportedly awaiting results of a third while quarantining. The hope is that the first test as a 'false positive'.
And further Admiral Mike Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations and another member of the Joint Chiefs, announced he's self-quarantining for at least a week after a close family member was infected.
Crucially the two Joint Chiefs members did not attend a Saturday meeting of top military commanders with President Trump at the White House. But it certainly raises concerns of the level of White House personnel exposure.
In statements last week, Pentagon officials said all members of the Joint Chiefs had been tested, and would likely continue to regularly.
Here's a brief run-down on the increasing numbers of officials and staffers now self-quarantining at the White House and on Capitol Hill after exposure, via CNN:
Several prominent government figures are self-quarantining after being exposed to a person at the White House who tested positive for Covid-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci is engaging in what he calls a "modified quarantine," during which he will work from home. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Dr. Robert Redfield and Food and Drug Administration chief Dr. Stephen Hahn are also practicing self-quarantine measures. All three men are slated to testify remotely in a senate hearing on coronavirus response later this week. Elsewhere on the Hill, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee will also self-quarantine after a staffer tested positive. Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, will do the same after interacting with a family member with the virus. Recently, President Trump's personal valet, the vice president's spokeswoman, Katie Miller, and Ivanka Trump's personal assistant (who has been teleworking for nearly two months) all tested positive for Covid-19 as well.
Concerning Saturday's Joint Chiefs meeting with Trump at the White House, CNN and others have noted with alarm that no official in the military meeting and briefing wore face masks. However, it did appear the generals as well as the president practiced some degree of social distancing, sitting with space between them.
Still, the White House indicated it's on 'high alert' regarding the threat of the virus to personnel there after it was revealed that there are at least eleven active COVID-19 cases among the Secret Service - though it's not known if the particular infected individuals were on the president's security detail (given also the agency has field offices across the country).