Just over 30 of Hawaii’s 442 coronavirus cases recorded as of Thursday are military members, dependents or military civilians, a U.S. official said.
The tally comes amid the Pentagon’s ongoing challenge to balance transparency about COVID-19 with operational security concerns as a federal entity with its own installations and rules, but also with populations that are intertwined with and part of the larger civilian community.
So far, it’s been a somewhat confusing exercise, with lawmakers increasingly pushing back against the Pentagon’s March 30 announcement that it would no longer report service member cases at individual unit, base or combatant commands — and instead would report servicewide numbers.
Some officials have said it’s important for the public to know the numbers locally to better gauge the military’s effectiveness in dealing with the virus.
As of Thursday, Defense Department-wide, the Navy had 597 uniformed members with COVID-19; the Army, 389; National Guard Bureau, 381; Air Force, 367; and Marine Corps, 164.
The defense civilian total stood at 448, dependents at 377 and contractors at 196.
Despite the prohibition on reporting locally, the Marine Corps was able to say Thursday that it had no coronavirus cases at its Kaneohe Bay base.
Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard referred a request for information about any COVID-19 cases there to the Navy at the Pentagon.
The Air Force recently confirmed an airman at Hickam Field had the virus, and U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii said a child care center employee at Fort Shafter tested positive.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono joined other officials around the country in calling for greater Pentagon transparency in its COVID-19 reporting.
“Transparency is important in building trust during a public health crisis. I think it would be appropriate for the military to report positive COVID-19 cases by service in each state, just as it does at the national level,” Hirono said in an email.
The Pentagon said base commanders “are instructed to continue to work with local community health officials to share information on base community cases.”
Officials said military COVID-19 case information is funneled through Tripler Army Medical Center to the state Department of Health daily — and the military cases are captured in the daily state totals that are publicized.
But how many military cases make up the state total and what services or commands they are a part of are not made public.
The Health Department “will not report the daily military COVID testing numbers because DOD (U.S. Department of Defense) has asked DOH (state Department of Health) not to release this information,” spokeswoman Janice Okubo said Wednesday.
Not complying with the request for nondisclosure “would likely affect our access” to the military data, she said.
Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, told Newsweek, “I think the military should release the numbers broken down by bases.”
“There’s a benefit in being open and transparent,” he said, adding there might be good news. “Right now all we hear is about the Roosevelt.”
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt was stricken with COVID-19 and sidelined on Guam to test 4,750 crew. In a Thursday press briefing, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said 416 crew members so far had tested positive, with 1,164 results still pending.
A total of 187 of the positives were symptomatic, with one service member hospitalized and another in the intensive care unit and 229 asymptomatic.
“So this is an interesting set of data. It’s interesting for the community but it’s interesting for us,” Hyten said. “We have to figure out how this impacts our population, which tends to be a very young, healthy population.”
The state’s largest industrial employer — the Pearl Harbor shipyard, with more than 6,400 civilian and military employees — said it has implemented a “layered approach” of safety measures to combat COVID-19 that includes social distancing. Some work was shifted off ships and to shore.
The workforce is considered mission essential “due to our critical national security mission to fix ships and submarines,” spokesman Cameron Salony said.
On March 26, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance stating that those ages 65 and older are an at-risk population, the Navy issued guidance to all four public shipyards, including Pearl, to better protect these workers.
“Employees who are age 65 and older, or who have a CDC-defined medical condition, have been granted paid administrative leave,” Salony said.