Pentagon plans to test all troops for COVID-19

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff briefs reporters April 22, 2020 

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The Pentagon hopes to test every active duty service member, including the National Guard and Reserves by the summer starting with those in critical areas, such as nuclear and missile systems.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters April 22 the Defense Department will begin shifting to a four-tiered testing system that prioritizes those in critical national capabilities areas.

Tier One, Hyten said, would focus on national defense, such as operating and fielding missiles and nuclear weapons. The second tier includes "engaged fielded forces around the world" while the third tier includes forward-deployed and and redeploying forces. Tier Four will include the rest of the 1.4 million active duty forces, including the National Guard and Reserve.

The most at-risk forces, such as mobilized doctors and nurses, are considered Tier Zero, and would receive diagnostic testing first and as needed. Testing will coincide with social distancing, using face covers, and quarantining.

Hyten said the department has already begun testing with Tier One and expects to complete it by the end of April. Full testing of the rest of the forces is expected to finish by the summer, he said.

The system includes screening service members with questionnaires and temperature checks to identify at-risk individuals, and quarantine for 14 to 21 days when necessary to pinpoint pre-symptomatic individuals. Everyone leaving quarantine would be given a swab test and temperature check to identify those who may be asymptomatic, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said during the briefing.

DOD has 5,901 total cases, with 3,725 infected active duty military members as of April 23.

The Defense Department can administer about 50,000 tests a week or 200,000 a month, the officials said, which is enough to test Tier One and core functions. However, increasing testing to 60,000 a day -- a number Gen. Mark Milley, Joint Chiefs chair named as a goal earlier this month -- could "challenge" the national stockpile.

"So when we get to the number that Gen. Milley said, we'll be able to cover the entire force," Hyten said, noting that hitting that testing target by the end of May or early June would "be a challenge with our national stockpile."

However, Hyten said DOD expects to be into testing the third and fourth tiers by then. But DOD's approach could change.

"These interim measures enable us to reduce the risk so we continue to operate until we develop therapeutics and vaccines," Norquist said. "And as we learn more about the virus, we will continue to evolve our approach."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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