Esper soon to decide on plan for preventing, mitigating coronavirus at Pentagon

By Justin Doubleday / March 5, 2020 at 2:45 PM

The Defense Department expects to begin implementing measures as soon as next week to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak at the Pentagon, potentially affecting the thousands of service members, civilians, contractors and visitors who walk through the turnstiles every day at the U.S. military's headquarters.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said DOD's Washington Headquarters Services is due to present him with a proposal next week for "prevention measures and mitigation measures" the Pentagon could implement in response to Coronavirus Virus-19.

During a joint press briefing with U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace at the Pentagon this afternoon, Esper said the department is looking toward measures already adopted by U.S. Forces Korea.

"Simple things like having teams wipe down doorknobs and copy machines and stuff like that to prevent the spread," Esper said. "Changing social interactions, contact on a daily basis. Things we can begin now doing to try and prevent the spread.

"But we also have to look at travel," he continued. "There are a number of things. Those will be coming up to me next week. We should, I hope by the end of next week, start putting in some measures to try to address prevention and then part of that plan will address mitigation should somebody [test positive or display symptoms]."

Esper also stressed that the Pentagon is well equipped to continue any critical operations should an outbreak affect the building.

"We have a lot of capabilities in this building," he said. "Our national military command center has the capability to go weeks at a time if they have to be locked down inside the building if we have some type of outbreak. So we're fully confident we can perform the functions that the Pentagon needs to perform if we have some type of outbreak."

Esper said he spoke with senior leaders and combatant commanders for 90 minutes this morning to discuss COVID-19.

"We did have a good conversation about the Pentagon and not just the Pentagon, but other installations," he said.