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Pentagon implements ‘social distancing’ policy, personnel advised to stay 6 feet away from one other

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley briefs the media at the Pentagon, Washington D.C., Dec. 20, 2019. (DoD photo by Marine Sgt. Warren Smith)
March 10, 2020

The Pentagon has implemented a social distancing policy for its personnel that recommends individuals remain at least six feet apart as fears of coronavirus spread across the globe.

At the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the policy has affected regularly scheduled meetings at the Pentagon, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said in a press conference on Monday. A normal meeting where there are normally 50-60 people “crammed” in was split into “a number of rooms” and conducted via videoconference. Hoffman noted that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and General Mark Milley were sat six feet away from each other, in accordance with the guidance.

“We’re encouraging everybody to practice good social distancing,” Hoffman said.

Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, joint staff surgeon, said at the press conference that the immediate risk remains low across the force, saying, “We’ve had a handful of cases around the world. No one is seriously ill at this point.”

He clarified that there are only three active-duty troops who have tested positive for the coronavirus, also called COVID-19. Two of them are in the United States and one is in South Korea. There are seven others who are under investigation for possible exposure, Friedrichs said. Those seven have been tested and the Pentagon and CDC are still waiting for the results.

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It may vary in how long doctors can determine their results because “in some cases, the samples have to be transported longer distances and that just extends the duration until they get there to the lab,” Friedrichs noted.

The Pentagon has enacted several measures along with the social distancing policy, including giving relevant personnel the ability to telework if their occupation allows for it, if the individual feels like he might have a cold, Friedrichs said.

“If you feel like you have a cold coming on, stay home. And so, one of the triggers that’s — if you’re sick, for heaven’s sake, don’t come in and share that,” he said.

“The really important discussion to have right now is implementing the appropriate mitigation measures to reduce the risk of more people becoming infected,” Friedrichs added. “We are very aggressively messaging that within the military to implement that now within work spaces, wiping down surfaces so that if someone does cough or sneeze, the surfaces are getting regularly wiped down to minimize the exposure to the virus.”

Employees were told to abide by standard practices during the cold season, such as covering your mouth when you sneeze.

“All of the things that my mom told me years and years and years ago,” Friedrichs said.

While the United States is working on developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, the vaccines could take months to develop and then it has to go through safety testing and testing to see how effective it is, according to Friedrichs

“So while we are working on that, I don’t want to create a false perception that there’s a vaccine that’s going to be available next week,” he clarified. “That’s just not possible for a new virus like that. Similarly, medical counter-measures are being tested right now but we don’t have a firm timeline for when we will know how effective they are.”

There are at least 800 cases of coronavirus and at least 27 deaths in 36 states and Washington, D.C., according to the New York Times.