Coronavirus Cases in the US Military

Updated: December 28, 2022
In this Article

    There have been important developments in the Department of Defense’s war on COVID-19. The DoD has entered into partnerships with civilian industry, modified travel restriction guidance, and continues to fight coronavirus at home and abroad.

    With the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2023, came a requirement to rescind Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s mandate that members of the armed forces be vaccinated against COVID-19.

    “The department will fully comply with the law. DOD remains committed to the health and safety of the force and to ensuring we are ready to execute our mission at all times,” said DoD officials in response to the requirement.

    Secretary Austin had previously ordered the mandate on August 24, 2021 arguing that the mandate was necessary to protect military readiness. As of December 20, 2022, over 2 million service members were reported as fully vaccinated. With 96% of the total force vaccinated, only 2 service members died from COVID-19 between April-December 2022.

    DoD COVID-19 numbers as of Dec. 8, 2022 included the following:

    • 740,942 total cases
    • 453,456 military
    • 167,988 civilians
    • 72,867 dependents
    • 46,222 DoD contractors

    By service, COVID-19 cases included:

    • Army: 147,739
    • Air Force: 93,052
    • Marine Corps: 40,362
    • Navy: 107,935
    • National Guard: 60,075
    • DoD Agencies: 4,302

    COVID-19 Deaths In The DoD:

    DoD-connected personnel who have died from COVID-19 at press time:

    • 96 military deaths
    • 36 dependent deaths
    • 417 civilian deaths
    • 141 contractor deaths

    Past Military Efforts To Combat The Coronavirus

    Past guidance included mention that DoD installations, facilities, and locations that host more than 1,000 permanently assigned DoD personnel will “provide weekly assessments regarding the status of travel restrictions” to the DoD.

    On March 15, 2021, the Department of Defense issued new travel guidance for unrestricted travel between DoD facilities. That guidance included an acknowledgment that constant review of travel conditions continues to be necessary and despite progress on vaccinations and other coronavirus mitigation levels, the COVID-19 threat to DoD personnel, resources, and operations is still thought to be high.

    The new travel guidance included a reminder that there are basic factors that play a part in DoD assessments for travel including:

    • Removal of local travel restrictions by appropriate authorities.
    • Availability of essential services (e.g. , schools, childcare, and moving services); Quality control/assurance capability for household goods packing and moving.
    • Favorable Health Protection Conditions (installations operating below HPCON C).
    • If “any DoD installation, facility, or location meets all of the criteria above”, approving authorities may “determine that movement is permitted to or from the DoD installation, facility, or location”.

    In the meantime, DoD continues to partner with civilian companies to further the war on COVID-19. Many of these partnerships have been to help with vaccines, PPE manufacture, and other measures. But one of the most significant-to-the-military moves?

    The DoD’s $9.98 million arrangement with Hardwick Tactical Corporation “to sustain critical industrial base production of US Military dress uniforms” that is meant to continue having a “domestic supplier of Berry Amendment compliant dress uniforms”.

    The United States Army provides an excellent example of the efforts within the DoD to find a treatment for symptoms as well as a vaccine that could be used to prevent the spread of the infection at a later point.

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy says work between the Army, other government agencies, and private sector companies is headed toward human trials (after animal testing had taken place).

    U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research have also been tasked to test coronavirus vaccines. These agencies are coordinating their efforts with the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health.

    Army efforts also include helping out with the thousands of COVID-19 screening tests that need to be processed; a March 20, 2020 report says the Army and its testing partners were testing just over 800 COVID-19 screening kits, but the end goal is to ramp up production to handle a significantly higher number; as many as 16,000 each day.

    The U.S. Army alone has nine facilities with clinical laboratories which have been certified to process the test kits.

    On the ground, U.S. Navy Hospital Ships have been sent to New York and California to help in healthcare efforts there; Guard and Reserve units are being activated in the wake of an Executive Order issued by the President authorizing use of Individual Ready Reserve troops and Selected Reserve members to assist in fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

    Coronavirus Reporting Procedures

    Those who experience symptoms are urged to call their healthcare provider (call FIRST) before attempting to report in person for screening. Symptoms include:

    • Shortness of breath
    • Fever
    • Cough

    Active duty troops should first obey any self-reporting or self-quarantine guidelines established by your unit, squadron, or base command. That may or may not involve immediate self-quarantine, testing, etc. If you are not sure what your unit’s coronavirus policies are, contact your command support staff, First Sergeant, Command Sergeant Major, or unit orderly room.

    Civilians, dependents, contractors, and others who may experience symptoms should call their healthcare provider first, follow all instructions by the provider, the command, or the VA–whichever is most applicable to you as a non-active duty coronavirus concern.

    COVID-19 On Board U.S. Navy Ships

    Some of the most high-visibility coronavirus cases in the U.S. military were on board the USS Theordore Roosevelt, but another Navy outbreak on board the USS Kidd turned that ship around to head back to port to handle the more than 60 coronavirus cases on board, remove the rest of the crew, and decontaminate the ship.

    The outbreak on board the Kidd marks the second instance of a COVID-19 situation on a ship that is underway; at the time of this writing some sources report that the first instance on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt resulted in more than 900 positive cases. The Kidd’s return to port is an obvious effort to prevent a repeat of such numbers.

    The Roosevelt made headlines in April 2020 when the Captain of the ship was relieved of command for requesting help fighting an outbreak of COVID-19 on board the Roosevelt.

    Captain Brett Crozier was relieved of duty, the acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly then flew out to the Roosevelt, which was underway at the time, insulted Crozier, and subsequently resigned.

    An investigation of the matter found the Navy standing by its decision to relieve Crozier of Command; Captain Brett Crozier is assigned other duties and, according to certain Navy officials, will never be recommended for command again.

    DoD Workplace Safety And Social Distancing Rules

    On April 13, 2020, the Department of Defense updated its guidelines for coronavirus containment measures; Force Health Protection Guidance Supplement 8 includes guidelines for restricted workplace access including the following:

    “Components will restrict access to DoD-controlled workplaces by individuals whom the CDC recommends not go to work to the fullest extent practical consistent with mission needs” and that applies to both uniformed service members, contractors, and employees. What does Supplement 8 advise? Who should stay home?

    According to the latest guidance, “Personnel who have symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, or shortness of breath) should notify their supervisor and stay home”.

    There are further requirements for those who are symptomatic: DoD policy under Supplement 8 states that in general terms, you should not return to work until you have self-isolated for 14 days, and in cases where workers are asymptomatic but who have been exposed to infected people, the 14 day requirement also applies.

    Supplement 8 advises, “the workplace supervisor, in consultation with the appropriate Component medical authority, must determine the individual does not present a threat to the safety of the workforce” before allowing military or civilian personnel back into the physical workspace.

    Mission-Essential Exceptions

    Where mission-essential duty is required, asymptomatic personnel may be granted an exception to continue to work “provided they remain asymptomatic”. These troops must comply with “daily pre-screening with temperature checks, self­ monitoring with employer supervision, wearing a face covering, and not sharing headsets or other objects used near the face; continuing to social distance as much as possible”.

    Such exceptions may be granted by your chain of command at the senior level. Specifically, DoD states exceptions are granted only by “the first General/Flag Officer or member of the Senior Executive Service (or equivalent) in the chain of command”.

    Are U.S. Troops Vulnerable To The Coronavirus?

    U.S. troops are at risk for coronavirus the same as any other American citizen, but depending on career fields, mission conditions, and other variables, some troops are more at risk than others. Healthcare workers, force protection jobs, and other specialties that bring troops into contact with potentially infected people are an obvious risk.

    The U.S. Department of Labor advises that coronavirus exposure risk is “elevated for workers who interact with potentially infected individuals” in the following fields:

    • Deathcare
    • Laboratories
    • Airport/flightline operations
    • Border protection
    • Solid waste and wastewater management
    • Travel to affected areas
    Written by Joe Wallace

    Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.