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Homeland Security

U.S. Department of Defense

May 8, 2020
By David Vergun

Northcom Has Stepped Up to Battle COVID-19

Some 14,000 Defense Department employees from the U.S. Northern Command are battling COVID-19 in the United States, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.

Of those, the secretary told Pentagon reporters yesterday, 2,600 are medical personnel who are serving in nearly two dozen hospitals, alternative care facilities and on hospital ships.

Northcom's first mission was Jan. 20, when it flew U.S. citizens from China to March Air Reserve Base, California, where they were examined and quarantined, he said.

On Jan. 30, the department issued its Global Pandemic Campaign Plan, which put Northcom at the forefront of the effort to battle the pandemic, weeks before the first American succumbed to the disease, Esper said.

"They've done an outstanding job," the secretary said. "They've implemented my three policies – priorities – flawlessly. Those were: first of all, protect our service members, our DOD civilians and their families. Secondly, ensure we maintain our mission capabilities. And then, thirdly, make sure we provide full support to the president's whole-of-government, whole-of-nation response."

As an example of maintaining mission capabilities during the pandemic, Esper cited the interception of Russian flights into U.S. air defense identification zones.

DOD is getting ready for whatever comes next in the COVID-19 fight, the secretary said. "We are preparing for a second wave, and maybe more," he told reporters. "We don't know what the trajectory of this virus will be, so we listen to the medical experts."

Esper added that he thinks it will be months until a vaccine is produced. "We're preparing for the long haul," he said, reiterating that his top priority is protecting service members, DOD civilians and their families.

The secretary said that means social distancing, and other good hygiene habits won't be eased any time soon.

Besides Northcom's efforts, Esper noted that 62,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are on America's streets and in the nation's hospitals, and nursing homes, helping their fellow Americans.

"We've been ahead of the curve, ahead of the need, every step of the way," he said.

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