A bit over a week ago, a U.S. Army Soldier stationed at Camp Carroll, South Korea became the first U.S. military service member to test positive for the novel coronavirus, officially known as Covid-19. While the news prompted concern among military communities, it also was not unexpected. As Covid-19 continues to spread around the world, military leaders have acknowledged and begun preparing for the eventuality that the virus would find its way into the uniformed services.
All military branches are now screening recruits and candidates for potential symptoms of Covid-19, which can often manifest similarly to the flu, with fever, cough, and shortness of breath seeming to be the most commonly occurring symptoms of the infection. While survival rates for those infected with Covid-19 are extremely high, especially for fit and healthy young men and women like those serving in the military, preventing the spread of this illness is being seen as the highest priority within military commands.
“The health and safety of all our people — soldiers, family members, civilians and future soldiers — is a top priority,” Lisa Ferguson, spokeswoman for Army Recruiting Command, told Military.com. “As a precautionary measure, Army Recruiting is directing all future soldiers who are within three days of shipping to basic training to be pre-screened. Every recruiting station will pre-screen future soldiers.”
The Army also released the questions they’re asking recruits as they’re screened, including whether or not they’ve recently traveled to nations with high Covid-19 outbreaks, if they’ve had directly exposure to anyone that was infected, and of course, whether or not they’ve experienced or exhibited any of the virus’ common symptoms.
Last month, the Joint Staff and Defense Secretary Mark Esper directed Northern Command and a number of other geographic commands to institute pandemic procedures, which include preparing for the possibility of widespread infection and taking measures to isolate service members that may have been exposed to the virus. The possibility of such a virus spreading rapidly though the population is something the U.S. military has planned contingencies and trained for.
Again, while it’s unlikely that many service member’s lives will be at risk if they were to become infected, preventing further spread of the virus will limit the community’s exposure, as well as the strain on medical services in each regional command.
“We coordinate with other combatant commands to assess potential impacts in the event of a pandemic and we ensure the U.S. military is poised to respond as required,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Hatfield said in a statement. “The military profession fosters a culture of planning, and the fact that we are coordinating planning efforts across the geographical combatant commands is consistent with how we prepare to respond, if directed.”
Any service members that are quarantined over exposure or infection are assessed on a daily basis by military medical personnel wearing appropriate protective equipment to prevent the further transmission of the infection. Beyond preparing to prevent the spread of the virus and getting strategies in place for rapid recovery, the U.S. military is also coordinating with national leaders to provide support if called upon. U.S. troops in South Korea have also put some large scare training exercises on hiatus as the infection count rises within the South Korean population.
To date, more than 90,000 people around the world have tested positive for Covid-19, with more than 53,000 already considered recovered. Thus far, only one U.S. service member and 5 service member dependents have tested positive.
While symptoms of Covid-19 infection are often similar to that of the flu, many of those who are infected may not manifest serious symptoms, which can complicate efforts to prevent transmission. As a result, it’s recommended that everyone wash their hands thoroughly and regularly frequently throughout the day, as experts agree that doing so is the most effective way to prevent infection.
Below is the Pentagon’s guidance for preventing the spread of Covid-19:
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-percent alcohol
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces