It’s the latest sign that the pandemic that has overloaded hospitals and brought the global economy to a halt is also starting to take a toll on military operations, even as the civilian authorities increasingly turn to the Pentagon for emergency assistance.
As of Thursday, the Pentagon has said that 574 Defense Department personnel had been confirmed as having the virus, including 280 service members and the first case at the Pentagon itself — a quadrupling from the week before.
The carrier taken out of commission was the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of 11 active carriers in the Navy fleet.
Officials have downplayed any impact of the outbreak on military readiness.
In a statement provided to VICE News, Adm. Mike Gilday, the top admiral in the Navy, said officials were “confident” the carrier would be “able to respond to any crisis in the region.”
But military leaders have also taken extraordinary steps to ensure the outbreak won’t continue to spread, including suspending participation in a number of major exercises that were planned in Europe and Africa.
On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced he was putting a freeze on all military travel and troop rotations for 60 days — a significant departure in tone from the plans announced this week by the White House to “reopen” the economy by Easter. Esper also acknowledged this week for the first time that the virus “may have some impact on readiness,” but assured it would not affect vital operations.
Christine Wormuth, a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation, and a former under secretary of defense for policy, said there’s no way for these changes to not have some impact.
“A lot of what our military forces do both here and overseas is to train so that they stay ready,” she said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen the U.S. take enterprise-wide steps in a health event to try to preserve the health of the force so that it can do its job.”