Earlier this week, the Pentagon launched a new Spotlight page specifically for the purposes of keeping service members and associated civilians well informed about the outbreak and subsequent coordinated quarantine efforts aimed at halting the spread of the novel (new) coronavirus. This new page came in conjunction with a new policy letter written and released by Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew P. Donovan, which outlines how the Defense Department is adhering to guidance offered by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
How is the military handling the coronavirus?
Donovan’s policy letter points out that America’s service members are not directly at risk of exposure to the viral outbreak that experts believe originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Thus far, there have been thousands of confirmed cases of coronavirus virus infection in 28 countries, including the United States and a number of its allies.
While the Defense Department has identified six different military installations that could potentially house up to 1,000 quarantined Americans upon their return from overseas, defense officials have repeatedly pointed out that these quarantined individuals will not have access to military personnel, and will be cared for by the Department of Health and Human Services and local health officials, not members of the military.
Where is the military housing those potentially infected with the coronavirus?
The six installations the Defense Department has identified to house quarantined travelers are:
- Travis Air Force Base, California
- Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California
- March Air Reserve Base, California
- Fort Carson, Colorado
- Lackland Air Force Base, Texas
- Camp Ashland, Nebraska
Upon completing a 14-day period of quarantine, each person that is not exhibiting signs of infection will be permitted to leave and rejoin the populous.
How many people have been infected so far?
In total, more than 20,000 people around the world have been diagnosed with the coronavirus virus infection, with nearly 500 deaths reported thus far. As of Monday, there were nearly a dozen confirmed cases in the United States. However, despite how distressing these numbers may seem, the survival rate for the coronavirus virus remains quite high even for those who are infected.
The Defense Department does not believe service members stand any greater chance of infection than other members of the American public, except that members of the military and their families tend to travel outside the country more often than others, slightly increasing the chances for exposure.
How can you avoid coronavirus infection?
Donovan’s policy letter pointed out that avoiding coronavirus infection is as simple as the traditional means people use to avoid spreading the flu during flu season. It suggests placing an emphasis on everyday preventative actions “to help stop the spread of germs.”
“Don’t think you’re being super dedicated by showing up to work when ill,” said U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Dr. (Lt. Cmdr.) David Shih, a preventive medicine physician and epidemiologist with the Clinical Support Division, Defense Health Agency. “Likewise, if you’re a duty supervisor, please don’t compel your workers to show up when they’re sick. In the short run, you might get a bit of a productivity boost. In the long run, that person could transmit a respiratory illness to co-workers, and pretty soon you lose way more productivity because your entire office is sick.”
The Pentagon further advises service members to adhere to these guidelines outlined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
- 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
The CDC and Pentagon both advise against travel to China, and recommend anyone who has returned from China recently be on the lookout for any changes in their health for at least 14 days after their return.
What are they symptoms of coronavirus infection?
If you or someone you know has recently returned from China and developed a cough or difficulty breathing since, the Pentagon and CDC advise that you avoid contact with others and get in touch with your healthcare provider immediately for further instruction.
Common symptoms of coronavirus infection are much like the flu, and include fever, cough, and a shortness of breath. These symptoms may develop in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus. While a number of questions remain about how the infection is transmitted, the CDC points out that person-to-person infections tend to occur only during close personal contact, or coming to within six feet of an infected person. The transmission may come as a result of “respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.”
Defense officials point out that it’s still unlikely that you or a loved one have been infected, even if you’re exhibiting the symptoms.
“For example, right now in the U.S., influenza, with 35 million cases last season, is far more commonplace than novel coronavirus,” Shih said.
The CDC recommends that you cover your mouth with a tissue any time you cough or sneeze, and stay home if you’re feeling ill.
Feature image courtesy of the Dept. of Defense