By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 25, 2020) -- Though Defense Department modeling of the COVID-19 virus isn't quite robust enough yet to determine where the next outbreak will happen, the modeling is good enough now for general planning efforts, the Joint Staff surgeon said.
"Right now, the modeling that we're able to do is for planning, but it is not yet sufficiently firm to say that it's predictive in nature," Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs told reporters at the Pentagon today. "We've not tried to predict that we're going to see a hotspot here, or we're going to see X number there. We used it for broad planning. Like in the community, if the outbreak occurs and X percent of people are infected over time, what does that mean as far as health care requirements?"
Friedrichs said information sharing among nations that have been afflicted by the coronavirus is increasing the value of data and that this additional data may soon make it possible to build predictive models.
"The good news is our allies in Korea and in Italy and in Europe are sharing data very transparently with us, and we're building a much more robust database," he said. "I think in another few weeks we'll have better fidelity on that data."
The modeling now available on the coronavirus and the resulting cases of COVID-19 is used to decide where best to place the Defense Department's medical resources, the Joint Staff surgeon said.
"The approach that we've taken, as we do our modeling and as we look at where to place capabilities, is based on how do we balance the immediate needs, either for a DOD population, or as in the case of New York -- where we're sending the [hospital ship USNS] Comfort and two of our field hospitals -- the needs of other citizens and supporting that whole-of-government approach," Friedrichs said. "It is a balancing act, there's no question about it. Our health care system across the United States is not designed or sized to deal with a pandemic."
Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah said Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper released guidance to raise the health protection condition, or HPCON, across the department, to HPCON Charlie. That level limits installation access to essential personnel and reduces the number of installation access points that are open.
Farah said the move to HPCON Charlie also includes measures such as going to maximum telework, cancellation of large-scale meetings, and taking people's temperature at certain access points within buildings. "This will vary from installation to installation," she said. "But these are concrete measures we can be taking now to stop the spread, lower the curve."
The press secretary said these actions are designed to protect DOD's people and their families. "The department will take every step necessary to ensure the wellness of our service members, civilians and families," she said. "Further guidance as it relates to the safety and health of our workforce will be coming soon."