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Military blackout on reporting COVID-19 numbers in Hawaii not universal in U.S. armed forces

The chief of naval information office said Friday “there have been reports of positive COVID-19 cases” at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard but “there has been no impact to readiness.”

“The Department of Defense does not release numbers of infected individuals at the unit, facility or geographic level due to operational security,” the Navy office at the Pentagon said.

But that policy is not hard and fast.

Following some highly-publicized COVID-19 outbreaks within Marine Corps ranks in Okinawa, Japan, Marine Corps Installations Pacific has taken to providing regular coronavirus update numbers for Okinawa on its Facebook page.

“It was reported at 8 a.m. today, Aug. 7, 2020, that within the last 24 hours (8 a.m. to 8 a.m.) three members” of Installations Pacific and III Marine Expeditionary Force affiliated with Camp Courtney on Okinawa tested positive for COVID-19, the installations command reported.

On Thursday, the command reported one member of the Marine “family” tested positive who was affiliated with U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa on Camp Foster.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, within a 24-hour period, 10 members were reported positive for COVID-19 at Camp Courtney and the naval hospital, according to a Marine Corps update.

Stars and Stripes said between the 4th of July weekend and July 26, 225 COVID-19 cases were recorded within the Marine Corps in Okinawa.

In mid-July, the governor of Okinawa island demanded more transparency from the Marine Corps on the number of cases it was experiencing amid questions of whether the U.S. military was taking adequate prevention measures.

In Hawaii, the state Health Department continues to follow the lead of the Pentagon in not releasing to the public statewide coronavirus statistics for the military.

“There is an agreement, if you will, between the military and the state that we respect their confidentiality,” Bruce Anderson, director of the Health Department, said at a news conference Monday.

Anderson noted that the military regularly reports its coronavirus cases to the Health Department, which in turn incorporates those figures into the daily state totals — without any information about clusters or outbreaks.

The military in Hawaii rarely reveals multiple cases, and, more frequently, reports individual cases that have occurred at public places. Recently, that’s included the Camp H.M. Smith gym, a Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps base fast food restaurant and the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Pass and ID office.

The chief of naval information office said “the safety and welfare of our personnel assigned to Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility is our top priority — and while there have been reports of positive COVID-19 cases, there has been no impact to readiness.”

The Navy office said it is “closely monitoring” local, state and national COVID-19 reporting. The shipyard, meanwhile, is actively enforcing physical distancing, minimizing group gatherings, wearing protective equipment and cleaning extensively.

All personnel also are being screened with medical symptoms questionnaires.

On its coronavirus response web page, the Defense Department has a section on “rumor control” and a Q and A with the question posed:

“MYTH: DOD isn’t being transparent about the number of personnel who have been infected with COVID-19.”

“FACT: As we continue to grapple with the novel nature of COVID-19, we are constantly assessing and adapting not only how we respond to combating the virus, but also how we share critical public health information with our communities.”

The Department of Defense “continues to balance transparency in this crisis with operations security.”

The services each provide daily public updates of COVID-19 case totals.

“As people around the world confront this growing crisis, and out of a concern for operations security with regard to readiness, DOD will not report the aggregate number of service member cases at individual units, bases or combatant commands,” it said.

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