As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow over the coming weeks, there has been a lot of information circulated online about the virus — some of it good and important for our members to have, and some of it unsubstantiated rumors.
In the interest of educating our members, we are sharing the following guide from the Department of Defense that denies certain rumors. It is currently posted on their “Coronavirus: Rumor Control” website.
Myth: DOD isn’t sharing COVID-19 numbers for the military to the public.
Fact: As we continue to grapple with the novel nature of COVID-19, we are constantly assessing and adapting not only how we respond to combating the virus, but also how we share critical public health information with our communities. Therefore, the Department of Defense has issued departmentwide guidance to ensure continued public reporting of cases of COVID-19 positive DOD personnel through the responsible military service. The services will each provide a daily public update. Additionally, the Department of Defense will continue to offer a public daily update of the full number of cases in all services and of civilians, contractors and dependents.
As we confront this growing crisis, and out of a concern for operations security with regard to readiness, we will not report the aggregate number of service member cases at individual units, bases or combatant commands. We will continue to do our best to balance transparency in this crisis with operations security.
Myth: The U.S. military has been slow to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Fact: In mid-January U.S. military bases in the Indo-Pacific region began coordinating with local authorities as the outbreak unfolded. DOD issued Force Protection Guidance for the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak on January 30 and in late January began assisting when the Department of Health and Human Services requested military facilities to help house the first groups of civilians evacuated from overseas. (See January 30 news conference).
Myth: U.S. service members visiting China were the source of the coronavirus outbreak.
Fact: Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, along with senior U.S. Administration officials, have repeatedly denounced the Chinese government’s efforts to deflect responsibility for downplaying the threat early on, as well as its lack of transparency during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, as being irresponsible and unhelpful with combating the pandemic the world is facing today. “No. That’s — that’s completely absurd. You know, look, if the Chinese government had been more transparent early on — and we’re talking late fall, December at least — we would all — all of us, all the nations in the world would have been able to get our arms around this and contain it in China where it began, and prevent its propagation around the world. But to have somebody like that from the Chinese government come out and make a statement like that’s completely ridiculous and it’s irresponsible, and it doesn’t get us to where we need to be,” said Dr. Mark T. Esper, Secretary of Defense, in response to questions about U.S. service members being responsible for the coronavirus outbreak in China.
Myth: The U.S. government is instituting a mandatory national lockdown.
Fact: As Vice President Pence stated in the virtual town hall, March 24, at no point has the White House Coronavirus Task Force discussed a national lockdown or stay-at-home order. However, national and state governments have published guidance to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Guidelines include following CDC hygiene recommendations, avoiding groups of 10 or more and avoiding discretionary travel.
Within the Department of Defense, we are practicing social distancing, minimizing person-to-person interaction, making accommodations for working offsite and, wherever possible, conducting virtual meetings. In addition, to enable mission assurance and force health protection, DOD has announced travel restrictions for service members, DOD civilians and families.
Myth: Military hospitals and clinics are not isolating COVID-19 patients.
Fact: All military medical facilities have infection prevention and control protocols in place, not just for COVID-19 but for any infectious disease. Patients who test positive are isolated from the general population in designated isolation rooms or sent home to self-isolate.
Myth: All routine appointments at military hospitals and clinics are cancelled.
Fact: It is recommended that you call your provider if you have a routine appointment scheduled. Some appointments are being transitioned to virtual appointments while others are being postponed.
Myth: All military pharmacies are closed.
Fact: There are currently no plans to close all military pharmacies, but each MTF may make decisions based on local guidance. It is recommended that you call to verify hours of operation before leaving home, and follow social distancing guidelines.
Myth: It is unsafe to donate blood at military blood donor centers.
Fact: All donors and donor center staff undergo a thorough health screening, and donor stations are practicing all social distancing guidelines.
Myth: The U.S. Navy hospital ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy will treat COVID-19 patients.
Fact: The U.S. Navy hospital ships USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) will be used to handle urgent care for non-COVID-19 cases so that local health professionals can focus on treating COVID-19 patients and shore-based hospitals can use their Intensive Care Units and ventilators for those patients. (Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet Public Affairs Press Release, March 23, 2020)
Myth: The U.S. military has federalized the National Guard.
Facts: The president has not, as of March 25, federalized, or placed under his control, members of the National Guard in the effort to combat COVID-19. There are nearly 10,000 members of the National Guard who have been called up to support, and some are even federally funded, but even they are all under the control of their respective state governors. They are performing several services for their states; however, none are involved in law or quarantine enforcement. “There’s no plan to use the National Guard in Title 32 or state active duty status or in any other status to do quarantine [enforcement] or enforce shelter-in-place operations,” said Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Myth: The U.S. military is implementing martial law.
Facts: Remarks by Secretary Esper in a press briefing on the COVID-19 response, March 23, 2020: “In New York, Washington and California, the president has approved mobilizing National Guard troops under Title 32 status, which provides them full access to federal resources, but still allows them to be managed by the state government. To be clear, this is not a move toward martial law, as some have erroneously claimed. Our great National Guard troops are performing tasks such as supporting drive-through testing sites, conducting food delivery to protect vulnerable populations, and helping states plan and coordinate their local responses. Allowing states to maintain control over their National Guard forces is the most effective way to manage their efforts, as it permits each governor to tailor the Guard’s activities to best support the needs of their state.”
Chief of the National Guard Bureau Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel press teleconference on the COVID-19 response, March 22, 2020: “There is no truth to this rumor that people are conspiring, that governors are planning, that anyone is conspiring to use the National Guard, mobilized or not, Title 32 or state, to do military action to enforce shelter in place or quarantines.”
Myth: Social distancing is only for high-risk populations.
Fact: Social distancing protects everyone, especially the most vulnerable, by slowing down the transmission of COVID-19. Stay away from crowded places, reduce contact with others and avoid people who are coughing or sneezing.
Myth: Everyone becomes seriously ill from the virus that causes COVID-19.
Fact: Most people with COVID-19 have not become seriously ill, but older adults and people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease or heart disease, are at greater risk of severe illness form the virus that causes COVID-19.
Myth: There are no symptoms for COVID-19.
Fact: Common signs and symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Myth: There’s nothing I can do to prevent infection.
Fact: While there isn’t a vaccine, you can take everyday precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Myth: Since my pharmacy might run out of medications, I should start taking half doses to make my prescription last longer.
Fact: Military pharmacies are staying stocked with the medications you need. Cutting your dose in half, without the advice of your doctor, could make you very sick. Take your medications as prescribed so you can stay healthy and out of crowded hospitals.
Myth: Certain medication combinations can prevent or treat COVID-19.
Fact: There is no FDA-approved medication combination to prevent or treat COVID-19. Don’t take any medications without your doctor’s advice.
Myth: Military family members can go to a military treatment facility for COVID-19 testing.
Fact: Military family members should call the Nurse Advice Line or their own provider to be screened first. If it’s determined they need to be tested, they will be directed to the nearest testing location.