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Here’s what the Pentagon is doing to protect against coronavirus

Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley speak to reporters at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 2, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
March 24, 2020

The U.S. Department of Defense closed off many of its entrances at the Pentagon and raised the health protection condition (HPCON) for the building on Monday in response to growing concerns about the coronavirus.

The HPCON has been raised to CHARLIE, indicating more strict screening measures, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday in a press briefing. The decision immediately limited Pentagon access points and changed some employees over to telework conditions. Esper said the protective measures could grow to include temperature testing of all people who come into the building.

Eight of the Pentagon’s entrances were closed, according to a Pentagon readout of the decision, including: The Metro Entrance Facility, Visitor Screening Facility, Corridor 5 Entrance, Library & Conference Center, Pentagon Athletic Center Entrance, Mall Vehicle Annex Access Point, Memorial Gate Vehicle Access Point, River Pedestrian Booth (Press/Overflow Parking).

Ten more of the building’s entrance points will remain open.

HPCON CHARLIE indicates “substantial sustained community transmission” of the coronavirus, according to the Army Public Health Center. Armed Forces Retirement Homes have also raised their HPCON to DELTA, indicating the highest level of health protection concern for “severe widespread community transmission.”

The security changes at the Pentagon have come after a Department of Defense contractor contracted coronavirus earlier in the month and passed away over the weekend. A total of 133 military personnel have also contracted the deadly virus, and Esper said they are being closely monitored.

“As this virus ramps up and spreads, we’ll obviously see more and more impact of persons in our ranks,” Esper said. “I am confident that while it may have some impact on readiness, it will not affect our ability to conduct our national security missions, both at home and abroad. So I’m very confident in terms of, again, the fitness, the health of our force, and the commanders’ ability to make sure they manage our resources and our people.”

Esper said the number of employees that have already switched over to telework options had reduced the number of Pentagon personnel by around 60 percent. He did not know specifically how many fewer employees would be working at the Pentagon under the new health conditions.

When asked by reporters if the Department of Defense has known since January if the coronavirus outbreak would reach pandemic levels and if the military had taken appropriate precautions, Esper said, “We always are very careful as to what’s happening in the world and understanding the world around us in order to protect the force. So we’ve always — and we always take precautions.”

“I mean, is — some of you know who have deployed with us, you can’t go on a deployment without getting multiple checks, whether it’s dental, physical checks, things like that,” Esper continued. “So we’re always very conscious of the health of the force before it deploys on a — on a military mission.”