All but one of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff is in quarantine after the vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Monday, CNN reports.
The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff is composed of the chiefs of the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and National Guard Bureau, as well as a chairman and vice chairman. (The commander of the U.S. Coast Guard is not an official member, but often attends its meetings.) They comprise the highest-ranking officers in the U.S. military, though they do not have operational command authority and instead have a number of other duties like readiness, planning, policy, training, and advising the president and secretary of defence. All of them but one are now in quarantine after holding several meetings with Admiral Charles Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, on Friday. Ray tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday.
Ray was at “several meetings in secure areas” with the Joint Chiefs in attendance, multiple defence officials told CNN, with one of the sources adding that one of the meetings was in “the tank,” a sort of ultra-secure inner sanctum used by the chiefs. General David H. Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, was the only one not present — he was proxied by his deputy commandant instead — and the only not quarantining. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz was represented by Ray at the meetings and is not quarantining, according to NBC News.
Ray attended the Gold Star Mothers Event on Sept. 27 at the White House, which is currently experiencing a major coronavirus outbreak of its own. Since the president disclosed a positive test result on Friday, numerous members of his staff and three Republican senators have also contracted the virus.
Under Donald Trump’s administration, nearly 7.5 million Americans are estimated to have tested positive for the virus, with over 210,000 deaths. In addition to purposefully undermining federal health authorities and failing to mount any sort of organised federal response to the pandemic, Trump and members of his administration have flaunted public health measures like social distancing and face mask use since the pandemic began. The president himself abruptly left Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre on Monday, possibly while still infectious with the virus, using the opportunity to stage a photo op where he took off his mask. The outbreak among administration staff and Trump allies may be the result of a super-spreader event at a White House event in the Rose Garden on Sept. 26, the day before Ray visited. It’s possible Ray caught the virus somewhere else entirely, but there is little indication the White House is seeking the kind of comprehensive contact tracing that could shed more light on how the virus spread.
As of Tuesday afternoon, none of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have tested positive or are exhibiting symptoms — though all but one are working from “alternate locations or from home,” according to CNN. Chairman Mark Milley is among them, as are numerous others:
The chief of staff of the US Air Force, Charles Brown, the chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, and the chief of space operations, Gen. John Raymond, also are all working from home, according to several officials.
Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff;
Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army;
Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard;
Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency;
Gen. Gary Thomas, assistant commandant of the US Marine Corps,
As many as 20 top military officers and Department of Defence officials may be in quarantine now, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“There’s no change to the readiness or capability of our armed forces. Our national command and control structure is in no way affected by this announcement,” Jonathan Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defence for public affairs, told CNN in a statement on Friday. Hoffman added: “The US military stands ready to defend our country and interests.”