Amid concerns that the coronavirus may spread at U.S. military facilities in countries experiencing big outbreaks, the Department of Defense has not said if all facilities abroad have the means to test people for the virus.
“We asked the Department of Defense whether the Army has coronavirus testing kits physically at all bases abroad,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) in a statement. “After following up, they are still unable to tell us [a] yes or no answer — does every military base overseas have current access to coronavirus kits?”
A Defense Department official did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
A Pentagon official told Pocan’s office to anticipate more information on Friday but provided “no real answers” as of Thursday, a spokesman for the congressman told HuffPost.
Test kits for COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the coronavirus, are not the only line of defense for health professionals trying to contain the spread of the virus. Many hospitals and health professionals are evaluating individuals and taking quarantine measures based on whether patients are showing likely symptoms of the coronavirus.
Pocan’s office contacted the Pentagon based on a report that several military personnel on a base in Afghanistan were experiencing “flu-like symptoms,” which are a potential sign of infection.
The unnamed military base is a few miles from a town in Afghanistan with five known cases of COVID-19, Pocan said, and 75 miles from the border of Iran, where cases of the virus have surpassed 10,000. It is not clear where personnel have conducted operations or what other precautions might be in place.
Around the globe, there are tens of thousands of military personnel and families based in countries where cases of the virus have been confirmed. Individual U.S. military bases in countries with severe outbreaks are already taking extra precautions against the virus, like widespread disinfection efforts and scaled-back military operations.
In Daegu, the town at the epicenter of South Korea’s outbreak, the U.S. garrison of more than 9,000 soldiers, personnel and families has halted most offsite travel and instituted health checks for people entering the base. U.S. military bases in Italy have closed schools and daycare facilities.
But the lack of a ready answer about testing, specifically, mirrors a broader dearth of clear information coming out of the Trump administration.
“The fact that we cannot figure out this basic answer for our troops serving abroad is very concerning,” Pocan said. “I hope that the military can get us an affirmative answer immediately.”
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