The Pentagon on Saturday afternoon said it has moved toward "minimal staffing" over coronavirus fears a day after President Trump formally declared a national emergency. CBS national security correspondent Cami McCormick broke the news, describing:
Defense Dept. officials have raised alert level at the Pentagon to Bravo. There will now be "minimal staffing" at the Pentagon due to coronavirus.
Crucially this alert level refers to staffing levels and virus precautionary measures only and is not a reference to DEFCON, which is the national defense readiness condition used to gauge military threats.
However, as we reported earlier there's growing concern that the Covid-19 pandemic could significantly impact US defense readiness.
Indeed it appears this is already occurring. Pentagon correspondent for Al Monitor Jack Detsch reports there's growing confirmed cases among the military and DoD ranks:
JUST IN - 10 service members have tested positive for Coronavirus as of this morning, per sr defense officials, including 1 who has been hospitalized.— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch_ALM) March 14, 2020
1 civilian, 8 DoD dependents, 2 DoD contractors have also tested positive for COVID-19.
CBS' McCormick additionally reported based on Pentagon officials that "in the next couple of days, the Pentagon may limit the exposure to take out food...tables, buffet lines, etc. inside the Pentagon" over virus outbreak fears.
Approximately 23,000 military and civilian DoD employees work at the Pentagon daily, which includes offices of the top generals among combined branches and the Secretary of Defense. The building famously has five ring corridors per floor which make for a total of 17.5 miles of hallways with endless offices lining each side.
How the Corona virus is going to effect military readiness:— Jack Murphy (@JackMurphyRGR) March 13, 2020
▪️Not enough beds, not enough mil hospitals
▪️Good news, ave soldier is young and in good health
▪️Virus could hit us multiple times like Spanish flu
▪️Could knock units out of commission for wkshttps://t.co/U6Q8NBIHWo
This comes on the heels of late Friday the Department of Defense restricting all US troop movement in the United States to the “local area” of their assigned bases effective Monday.
“This restriction will halt all domestic travel, including Permanent Change of Station, and Temporary Duty,” said a press statement released with the memo as reported by Defense One. “Additionally, service members will be authorized local leave only.”
The new directives come among broader national efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19 which included Trump's national 'State of Emergency' declared Friday, but at a moment of concern that the virus could devastate densely-packed military barracks and severely impact US defense readiness.
The novel virus "could knock units out of commission for weeks," writes Army Special Forces veteran and national security journalist Jack Murphy. However, he also adds: "The military is unlikely to be hit by COVID-19 as hard as the general population because the virus particularly affects the sick and elderly according to the Center for Disease Control."
Currently, some National Guard units have begun deploying in 'hot zones' like a community in New Rochelle, in order to assist with quarantines and food and medical supplies delivery.