WASHINGTON — Defense secretary Mark Esper and Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist will create a “bubble” around themselves and their staffs to dilute the chances of COVID-19 taking down top defense officials, the Pentagon said.
“Starting today, the secretary and the deputy secretary are remaining physically separated,” Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman told Pentagon reporters at a briefing. “They and their staffs will only interact via teleconference.”
The bubble, as called by Pentagon officials, is the latest step by the Pentagon to ensure chain-of-command and fitness of forces during the COVID-19 threat – a type of foe the military is not normally designed to combat.
The Defense Department has detailed pandemic response plan, such as assisting with quarantines, border restrictions and providing facilities — the latter being done now to help health officials with individuals who may be infected.
The military also can also provide logistics, communications and other support for law enforcement and the National Guard, similar to what is happening at the US-Mexico border.
“The Department of Defense is ready, willing and able to support civilian authorities to the greatest extent possible at the direction of the president,” Hoffman said. “We just want to make sure that the conversation that we have is informed by the facts of what is possible and what is not and what those tradeoffs are.”
One concern is that calling up the National Guard and reservists could dilute civilian medical personnel ranks, he said.
Hoffman declined to say how many ventilators the Pentagon has “Because the number deals with our deployable medical capability, which is a number that we’re not prepared to give out.”
As of Monday, the official COVID-19 numbers for the military were 37 confirmed cases — 18 active-duty service members, three civilians, 13 dependents and three contractors, he said.
For the moment, the Pentagon is continuing with boot camp and training missions for new recruits while taking “precautionary measures” to limit virus spread, Hoffman told POLITICO.
U.S. Northern Command, tasked with defending the U.S. homeland, said in a statement Monday that any assistance to the coronavirus crisis “would be secondary to our primary mission to defend the United States. A range of planning efforts cover scenarios which include aiding in the establishment of medical treatment sites, providing shelter for displaced persons, assisting with food transportation, and numerous other logistical efforts.”