Thomas McCaffery, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, joins Lernes Hebert, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, and Thomas Muir, the director of Washington Headquarters Services, to address coronavirus concerns at a Pentagon briefing, July 1, 2020.
Alright, everyone, thank you all for being here and thank you on the line for joining us. As you are aware, today’s briefing is a Kobe 19 update on departments guidance. And today we have with us Mr. Tom McCaffrey. He’s the assistant secretary of defense for health Affairs. Mr. Tom, your he’s the director of Washington headquarters services, and Mr. Learners favor He is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military and military personnel policy. Again, as you, uh, are called on, please limit your questions to one question and a related follow up. If there any questions that were not able to answer in the room today, please feel free to follow up with me afterwards. And I will make sure you get response accordingly. That’s a without further ado. Okay, good afternoon. Just briefly as introduced. My name is Tom McCaffrey and assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. And, ah, in a nutshell, I oversee the military health system. So we obviously have been involved in many facets of the department’s response to the pandemic. Everything from deployment of medical assets in support of the domestic requirements, everything that we do in terms of providing guidance for force health, protection of our troops and our employees on everything that the military health system does in terms of military related research and development for things like vaccines and therapeutics. And so I will look forward to answer any questions you have with regard to the role of the military health system in the department’s response. Thank you. Good afternoon. My name is Tom. Your I’m the director of Washington’s quarter services. As discussed, I’m in responsible, accountable for the customer experience here in the Pentagon reservation for tenants, customers, visitors on the tenants of the reservation itself. That’s part of my duties. I perform the responsibilities as the military installation commander for the Pentagon reservation on. So, of course, we find ourselves today and phase two of our Pentagon reservation plan for resilience, welcoming back a lot of our workforce that has been teleworking over the last three or four months. And I’m happy to answer questions on the impact of the Pentagon reservation. Thank you again. I’m learning, say bear and my portfolio involves all types of military personnel policies. Think of assignments, promotion separations, but specific to Cove in 19 the travel restriction policies of the department has put in place. All right, so the further do we’re gonna go ahead with the question answer session. Um, starting here in the room, Barbara. Sure. Which one uses for maybe you, Mr McCaffrey, but could you Whoever all of you address there is so much out there right now, of course, about the uptick in civilian society and Covic cases. What are you seeing in the military in as you make your decisions and trend lines in increased, uh, cove it cases symptomatic or asymptomatic? Just people who have trendline of increase in the number of people who have viruses. And how is this impacting the civilian sector situation impacted your decision making about the military around the country? Sure. Let me Let me take that, um, in my colleagues can chime in. So, um, not surprisingly, we’re seeing some uptick in in our cases in terms of infection, largely around where we’re seeing that in the civilian community. So in Florida and Texas and Arizona, some parts of California. So that’s that wouldn’t be a surprise. That mean we’re part of the community. And so where there are some upticks, they’re or we’re seeing that as well. Um, in addition, though for us it’s probably also a factor of in the beginning, parts of the pandemic. We, like the rest of society, was really focused on making sure we were testing those at them had symptoms. And we’re sure in showing up with symptoms. Um, over the last couple of months, we have dunmore testing of those who don’t have symptoms. Folks that are deployed on a mission, Some are strategic assets. And so we would expect if we’re doing mawr testing of those that are asymptomatic, we’re going to Seymour. We would see more of an oven uptick in cases. So right now, our focus is looking at the data we have with regard to our particular installations and health facilities in those areas where there are hot spots in the community and making determinations based upon what’s happening on the ground. You know, do we need to take any more actions with regard to that that local installation in terms of force, health protection, access to the base? Um what? What we’re not seeing, which is a good sign, is we’re not seeing any material uptick in metrics that would indicate that we are. We’re seeing, um, the infection rates translate into, um, you know, sickness or wellness. Meaning we’re not seeing material increases in our hospitalization of our of our active duty or employees. And so, um, you know, right now across our systems, of all of our facilities in the country, we have 57 total inpatient admissions there are tied to cove it. So is this again? I’m sorry. I don’t know which is best to answer. How is this affecting in in you mentioned? Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California. How is this affecting decisions about bases? Have you seen any base commanders tighten up again, if you will, because of what’s happening in their communities. And you have any concerns about your uptick in these Aaron military active duty? Right. Okay. So do you have any concerns that you are seeing now in a particular what you’ve always characterized is a relatively young, relatively healthy population. It’s as I said, This is the guidance from the department is that we provide, you know, data and factors for local installation commanders to use um in making decisions about what types of public health mitigation strategy they want to put in place for their installation. It’s very much tied to what’s happening in their local community, a zai mentioned. While we’re seeing some upticks in the same places that there are upticks in the civilian sector again, that is not necessarily overly surprising in that we’ve been doing more testing and we’ve been doing more testing of those that are asymptomatic, so that information is something that the installation commanders have. They use that information to make decisions based upon their local circumstance, their local mission. It is definitely something we are, you know, we track these cases on, we get reports on a daily basis, and that information is shared with the commander on the ground to make you know well informed decisions about what to do. That could be everything from, um, you know how you access to to that installation. You know what types of gatherings are allowed or not allowed, but again, it’s all it’s all locally based in tailored. If I could follow onto that kind explains sort of what Tom dismissing how we did that here for the Pentagon reservation. If we use this as a military installation, looking at the same data from authoritative sources, state and local public health authorities. We also tracking military health, writing us from a military catering facilities are military positives from our records coming off our military forces. But the majority of us here in the Pentagon, of course, are civilians. 20% military, about 72% civilian here in the Pentagon were a product of the civilian economy, rather for healthcare for most of us. And so we tracked, of course, three regions now D C. Maryland and Virginia about a 50 mile radius around the Pentagon, tracking those trends of 14 day downward trend for influenza like illnesses in Kobe like symptoms. The 14 day downward trend for new cases There are spikes in the linear regression, but we’re tracking a linear regression discussion over a 14 day trend, a 14 day downward trend in positive cases and then, as Mr Catherine, Mexico’s Tom mentioned looking at hospital capacity and PPE and personal protective equipment and testing for health care workers. We’re fortunate in the D C region that those are all trending downward work of a local public health authorities who have a public health office here in the Pentagon itself that drove us to make the decision last week to move to phase two of our resilience plan effective this Monday. So we’re seeing a return of the workforce once again his miss tarmacs and based on local conditions, applicability to this military installation, making those informed decisions using authoritative data sources. And I would imagine the rest of military installation commanders are doing the same thing. Yes. All right. We’re gonna go to the line. We have a uterus. Great. Thank you. Two quick questions. First, give the number of people who have tested positive at the Pentagon reservation. And secondly, have you seen instances of people refusing to wear masks, and if so, BP been penalized. And is there any policy? Thank you. I think I’ll take that question. This is time you’re a director washing headquarter services for the Pentagon reservation. We have We have reported throughout the code pandemic. Our numbers have been rolled up reported daily through the joint staff provided to the public and to the media for the Pentagon reservation. As all other military installations reported. Our reporting is rolled up in that reporting. I can tell you that our numbers are significantly less than our surrounding communities that the Pentagon is a safe place to work on, that we take great measures to make sure that it’s a safe place for our workforce to work. Reference masks. It’s a great question for cloth face coverings. Of course, you’ll see. Sign it everywhere here in the Pentagon reservation toe where your cloth face coverings when you cannot maintain six feet of social distance signs are all over the place on our military reservation, not just here but the mark center in our least office buildings on a raven Rock mountain complexes. Well, we have asked as you come into the door toe, have a mask on if you don’t have a mass where face covering one will be provided for you. Andi, we’ve had very few instances where that has been an issue. In fact, if you walk the halls of Peg on here, you’ll see nearly 100% of close not 100%. There may be wanted to exceptions, but that’s because there taking a sip of coffee or something. So we are seeing great behaviors who have a well educated and informed workforce. They know what they need to do to protect themselves and their family. And you can see it in the hallways here in the Pentagon there observing those best practices and good behaviors. Hand hygiene, hand sanitizers, maintaining social distances and wearing cloth face coverings when they can’t maintain social distance right back into the room. Making what is the breakdown of symptomatic versus asymptomatic positives that you’re seeing right now? The reason I ask is that this 100% accountability testing for some units rolled out like end of April May was a pretty stable month for Kobe cases. But this past few weeks has been huge. 18 20% increases week over week. So how does that stack up for their Maurice symptomatic people showing up now than there were a month ago on? And what is the breakdown? Yeah. So, um, what I would I would need to kind of follow up with you to give you a break down because you just identify were doing different testing at different platforms and different populations. So I don’t have it rolled up as an aggregate, and it probably is more meaningful to be able to break it down to say, for example, in navy, you know pre deployment. What are we seeing? Symptomatic versus Asymptomatic. Same thing with accessions in basic training. You know, I will say, for example, the data from the TR When they did some follow up testing there, there was a significant proportion. I have to get back to you with the exact percentage you know that were asymptomatic. And again, that’s that’s not all that surprising. If indeed, we’re testing a cohort that is a younger demographic. We’re going to see more asymptomatic that are part of that that result. But we can fall up and give you breakdowns. I follow for Mr Bear to, um so Florida and California are still a no go for travel. But Texas and Arizona, who are having these massive spikes still wide open their governors are asking people to stay at home. They’re shutting down bars and restaurants in Arizona. Is there a possibility that D O D y? They will go back on the red list? So I think so. The question there’s there’s probably a lack of understanding across the population that outside the department as to what our policy is, our policies tiered. So, uh, the state has to first meet the gating criteria. But once they meet it, then we devolved down to the installation assessments on. And, as you can imagine across the entire state of Texas, that the outbreak is is different, right? And some locations, more rural locations that others perhaps the metropolitan areas. You have greater spikes. Installations do their assessments based on local travel restrictions based on the availability of health care on that sort of thing. So they then provide that a military department secretary who makes the decision whether or not to lift the travel restrictions. Uh, that’s a long way of saying that we because we don’t want to, uh, do wholesale closing down and lifting of travel restrictions were gonna do it installation by installation and all those installations like, for example, for code. A lot of people like to go out in Austin if Austin that bars are open. And Austin, is there a concern that if you’re assigned Fort Hood that you might be getting sick when you’re going out on the weekends? Sure. So the all the insulation commanders are following local public health guidance and making sure that that, uh as was mentioned earlier, we have a very well informed, educated forces is evidence by the behavior that they’re exhibiting throughout this pandemic. They’re concerned about their family, as is the secretary of Defense. And they’re doing the sorts of things that are necessary toe make their peers and their families safe. And so we’re seeing very good behavior out of the force. All right, we’re gonna go back to the line. Laura Signal. Hi. Thanks for doing this. I’m wondering if you conclude, give us an update on, um, over more Eden and the vaccine. Specifically. Earlier, officials said that, uh, you will get a vaccine by January 2021 fully distributed by then, I’m wondering if that is still your assessment or whether there’s been any changes to that time frame. So, uh, in terms of operation warp speed in goals that they’ve established in our working toward, I think it’s best for me to refer to upper operation warp speed on those particulars. But in terms of the Department of Defense, I think as many of you know, the department, you know, as an ongoing basis before cove it after Cove it we do a lot of of military medical related research and development for items that have, ah, you know, direct impact on military purposes. Eso It’s natural that we do research on vaccines on prophylaxis treatments because we make one. Make sure if our troops were deployed somewhere, that they have that kind of protection against infectious diseases. So some of the research that we have been doing for military purposes is Aziz, part of the all of government effort. And so the research we’re doing on several vaccine candidates and therapeutic candidates are part of that. All of government, an operation warp speed effort, you know, to meet that that operation warp speed goal in terms of having enough vaccine available on and then also therapeutics. And sorry if I could just follow up in terms of, um, the antibody tests are I understand there was some concern early on that he has for both he or not totally accurate has there give us an update on that as well? Do you have more confidence in antibody tests these days? So that’s actually one of the areas that the department and others are looking at in terms of what is the the type of antibody test in capability that we want to see. And what I mean by that is it’s it’s kind of Ah, multi step number one. You want to see if someone who has been infected has the antibodies associated with that? But more importantly, it is. What we’re after is the neutralizing antibodies that the antibodies, the type of antibodies in the volume or concentration of the antibodies that can actually fight off the infection. And we are not at a place where, um, you know, we there is a go to test that we believe has that kind of accuracy. But that is one of the areas the department is is in the middle of researching to come to come back with a product, a solution that will give us that kind of kind of definitive information to make decisions on all right back to her. Measuring. That’s indicating the Afghan journalist. My question is regarding a used troop in Afghanistan. The question is what sort off special crooner why the safeguards are in place for used troops in Afghanistan. So troops in Afghanistan, a couple of things we have department wide guidance by which, before troops get deployed to an overseas location that, for example, that’s a combination of testing and then having the period of time where there’s restrictive of movement, where they are isolated for 14 days, a za way to make sure that we capture any anyone that developed symptoms and infection before they get deployed overseas. Secondly, we have in a widespread testing, you know, for, you know, across the board in terms of operational missions. And so, for example, with accessions similar approach. We, uh it varies by military department in location, but in general it would be something where, before a smaller group of trainees or deployed individuals is put out to a larger population. They are they’re tested their kept isolated for 14 days. Um and, uh and then once they test out of that being testing negative, they would then go out to a larger the larger pool of either trainees or a deployed unit. All right, back to the line. Jeff show. Thank you so much for doing this. Back on May 22nd OSD said there had been a total of 152 positive cases at the Pentagon reservation. Since that information is available, can you please provide an update. Your most recent update of the positive cases at the Pentagon reservation. Thank you, Mr Sugarless. Is Tom your again? The director washing headquarters is mentioned earlier. We roll up our numbers for all positive cases on the Pentagon reservation to the joint staff and those reported as a roll up by breakdown of services civilians, contractors, independence on that rollup is available both publicly on we can get you a copy of the latest ruling. Thank you. I’m asking specifically for the Pentagon reservation. And since you provided this information before, I’m hoping you can kindly do so again. And I’ll take that one for action. Thank you, sir. All right. Further. Any additional questions by building on the vaccine question? Lingual. When will service members get the vaccine? Are they gonna be among the first group to get it? I’m gonna show you how old I am. I remember the swine flu vaccination back in 1976 and service members got the swine flu thing before anybody else in America did a sort of a test. Is is that what’s gonna happen with this? So, um, the determination of obviously the first task is completing the research after we complete the research, then it’s really and when I say we, I don’t mean just the department, but across the board, you know, the activities Operation Warp Speed is doing on their own sponsored research with manufacturers, but its first to complete the clinical trials that are required, then to get FDA approval to use it in a, you know, a limited fashion as part of the overall development on. And then finally, is this ah, vaccine of product that can be widely used A to that stage, you know, based upon what you know what the product is, what efficacy is with the situation the country is. Then we be looking to operation warp speed to to determine. Then, you know, how do we allocate that? You know, what are the priority populations? Be it front line health care workers, you know, be it? Ah, certain demographic. Where does where does the military fit into that? But we’re not. We’re not there yet, but that will be something that will have to be determined once we get closer to having a vaccine available. Thank you. Have a little more time. However, it’s allocated for your own decision making. Do you anticipate two questions? Do you anticipate this, Dina? Mandatory vaccine for U. S troops. And I just wanted to come back one last time to what Meghan was asking about. Symptomatic versus asymptomatic. Especially on the increased cases you’re seeing. What are you? Give us some perspective. Are you concerned? And why? Or why not about the increases you’re seeing in the amongst the military in these civilian hot spot locations. I take it they’re not only symptomatic, correct, correct. Give us a little more context on that. And is this going to be a mandatory vaccine? So on the on the context, in terms of asymptomatic and symptomatic again what we’re seeing, which would not be surprising that as you doom or testing of, of large groups of people and a big chunk of those are folks that are not presenting with symptoms. So they’re asymptomatic. Um, those typically, you know, not across the board, but tend to be the younger, never demographic, and so would not. It’s not surprising to us that we’re seeing an uptick in infection rates, particularly where we’re seeing it in a local community. And a lot of that and again I’d have toe get back to you in terms of breakdowns. But a lot of that is tied to those who are asymptomatic. And so it’s It is a data point, Um, you know, as Mr Mirror, Mr Abraham pointed out, it’s a data point that we make sure they it’s not a across the board aggregate intervention or action steps. It is based upon what’s happening in that local at that local installation, that mission and that community as to what we’re seeing in. What would that what would that lead us to do either differently in terms of public health mitigation measures again, access to the installation really, frankly, in terms of following a lot of the CDC guidance for asymptomatic could still, um, transmit the correct, but our concern well, so so figuring. So we would be concerned with with any identification of new infections. But we were taking the same measures that the Public Health Committee community community writ large would take. So if we’re doing more testing of asymptomatic, so we find people that are infected well, they’re isolated, and we do contact tracing, just like what is being done in the community So that is a normal, um you know, established process the department again, not just for cove, it, but for decades. We have a very strong public health surveillance apparatus in policies that would guide us. And so it’s about when we get that data and we see on Uptick it is, we’re going to intervene. We’re gonna make sure that that person, if they need care, gets care. If they need to be isolated, they’re gonna be isolated. And we’ll do the appropriate contact tracing in order to to contain any further spread of the infection. Just ask if you have a sense that any of this is coming through in these air geographic areas you mentioned through inter action with local, the local community being out on the town, going to shops, going to the big box, Is it even if they’re asymptomatic? Is it coming through interaction with these hot spot communities? And so that’s That’s one of the things that we’re looking at again based upon the targeted installation and community. Looking at the data that we’re seeing from, you know, our population, what is the connection to what’s happening in local community on and therefore What would we need to do in partnership with that local community in terms of those further public health mitigation factors? But again, the our core approaches. We want to make sure we’re using data and providing guidance and factors to consider that could be made, you know, at the local level, Taylor to that particular situation. Timeline. Do we have any callers on the line that having follow ups? All right, we’ll take one here in the first kind of kind of this kind of a barber is asking, but where you’re seeing upticks, right are places that are reopening. And so no matter what the rules are on insulation, you can go out in town and go to a bar and not necessarily wear a mask of your service member. And then you can go back and bring that to your family to, you know, to the motor pool on Monday. And when we first started having this conversation about reopening installations, General Heightened said, Well, installation commanders can always be tighter. You know, your chain of command can always be tighter than what the local laws are. Are we seeing that? Are we seeing military commanders say I don’t care if you can go to. If you can legally go far out in town, I don’t want you to go. Or if I don’t care, if you don’t have to wear a mask in this state, you will wear a mask because thesis cases, even with more testing cases, shouldn’t be going up. If everybody is staying safe, they should be going up on this level So clearly there are people in the military who are taking advantage of the fact that they can go out in town and not wear a mask and go to a bar in some of these places. And then that is spiking your numbers. Is there any thought to pushing down policy that says We’re not just going to stay in line with what the city says? We know better, but our our our overall guidance in terms of installation by installation. I don’t know if Mr Abra has kind of some of the the status of, you know, base by base, but that is a core Part of our guidance is what is the data you know, both with our population instantly in an installation, what’s happening in local community to either either be more stringent or less stringent based upon that local commanders, you know, mission in and gold. So but will day and will they get pressure from higher up if those results are not being seen? Um, I I fully believe that, um uh, local commanders are going to make the right decision both for the health and wellness of their active duty, their civilian employees, the families of active duty, and to make sure that they could meet their mission, that they will take the necessary action using the department’s guidance to make that local local decision whether or not it is exactly aligned with what’s happening in the local community. I mean of the later on, you’ll receive an update from us on the number of installations that have lived to travel restrictions. One of the criteria for lifting travel restrictions is to move below health protection condition Charlie, with which is all the things that we’ve been talking about to make sure that the troops and their families are safe. As of right now on Lee, 70 have met the criteria for lifting travel restrictions and so gives you some idea out of out of Ah, 200 let’s see where we get read out of 231 major insulation, 70 have lifted it. So give you some sense of what they’re doing. Yes, but that doesn’t control anybody’s behaviour off base. No, but they’re being I mean, we believe, based on the results that we’ve seen. Thus, for that, the population has been well informed and that service members are not willing to risk their families. And they’re doing the kinds of things toe keep themselves and their family safe. And so And commanders, you know, this is not something that just came up with pandemic commanders every day throughout their careers have been making calls and talking to their troops and making sure they understood the necessity of making informed choices about what they do off duty. And so it’s can’t go to this bar. You can’t go to this restaurant. The question is, is that happening now because of Cove it, and not just because of other shenanigans that would be going on. What we’re seeing is that they’re they’re continuing to maintain very high standards with regard to the safety right, So the health protection conditions for the majority of the installations out there still fairly high ramped up, which tells us that they are. We have time for one more question, just up, well done that So the local commanders will work. Well, do the thing for the green. I’m just wondering how how this changes assignments overseas. There are a lot of countries, for example, that don’t want Americans. They’re right now they’re closing, reported. How was that complicated your job and or hasn’t complicated your thank U s. So it is. It’s not a complication as much as it is way have to be able to communicate widely, right? So the commander at Lackland Air Force Base needs to understand what the conditions are in Germany if they have a troop that’s getting ready to to transit to Germany. And making that information available to local level has been a key component to this. The local travel restrictions is a significant factor in whether or not travel is lifted. You know, moving across country or across to another country is difficult enough for our families, and what we don’t want to do is put him in place and circumstance where it’s not conducive to setting up a household that they can’t, you know, go look at houses or rent a place or get access to central services that you would need in order to establish a household. So all of that is part of the criteria that the insulation commander has to judge before making a recommendation to the secretary of the military Department. Toe lift. The travel restrictions composed the Q and A session. General, do you have anything you’d like to add or thank you? All right. Thank you for joining.