Pentagon photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ned T. Johnston

Defense

Pentagon considers reducing quarantine to 10 days

The Defense Department is "very seriously" considering a shorter quarantine period in place to stop the spread of coronavirus cases.

"What we’re looking at now is how can we adjust our policies and practices," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during a virtual town hall May 28, adding that DOD will "consider reducing our quarantine time, for example, from 14 days to 10 days."

Esper said the reduction suggestion was taken "because the risk level is not that much higher between those two timelines for our [military] population." He said he'd consulted with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and part of the White House’s COVID task force.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. John Milley said that a four-day reduction would capture most cases.

"We know the incubation period for this particular virus on average is something like 5.6 days," Milley said during the briefing. "So if you isolate for 10 [days] you’re going to get 98% to 99% probability that if the patient tests negative for that, they don’t have it."

COVID-19 infection data released by DOD indicates a slightly lower rate of infection and a far lower death rate than exists in the general U.S. population.

"We don’t know how long this will last with any degree of certainty," Milley said, adding that he had "high confidence" that a vaccine would be developed by the fall and available at scale by the start of 2021.

That aggressive timeline is in keeping with the Trump administration's "Operation Warp Speed" plan, which looks to accelerate the production of a coronavirus vaccine so that it's ready at scale by the end of 2020.

Previously, Fauci has suggested it would take "at least" 12 to 18 months to develop a vaccine -- a timeline that many experts have said is optimistic considering the length of time usual for testing and manufacturing new vaccines and that Fauci himself characterized as "aspirational."

Kenneth Frasier, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Merck, recently warned that the 12-18 month timeline for a COVID-19 vaccine was "very aggressive" and "is not something I would put out there that I would want to hold Merck to."

Travel update

Esper also updated DOD’s travel policy in a May 22 memo to give installation heads some guidance for granting travel if certain conditions are met, superseding previous restrictions in place until June 30.

"Consideration of factors such as removal of shelter-in-place orders, and a downward trend of new COVID-19 cases over the preceding 14 days, will be used to make a determination for the resumption of movement between states, regions, and nations," Matthew Donovan, DOD’s undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, said May 26 during a news briefing.

Other factors include individual installation-level conditions, local travel restrictions, testing ability, capacity at medical facilities and hospitals, and schools and child care availability.

Stop movement orders are still in place for service members, civilian personnel and contractors unless the applicable local, regional, and installation conditions are met, the memo stated.

Travel for permanent and temporary duty, government paid leave (such as leave outside the local area and non-official travel outside the local area) and travel authorized or ordered by the State Department are included from the stop movement order and restrictions. On-boarding new employees can continue as long as it’s within the local commuting area, as well as civilian employees traveling to a commuting area (that’s not government funded).

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