Lawmakers are concerned that the military may not have an adequate supply of coronavirus testing kits at military installations deployed overseas, especially in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, released a statement following a lack of a response from the Army regarding whether the military had sufficient coronavirus testing kits.
In a letter to defense officials, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, addressed concerns that deployed members of Wisconsin’s Army National Guard to Afghanistan were operating in areas believed to have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and that the unit may not have access to testing kits.
The letter, addressed to Thomas McCaffery, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Joseph L. Lengyel, said “there is no information regarding the availability of testing kits for personnel based in the United States or overseas.”
Baldwin requested information on DoD actions to ensure testing kits were available for deployed U.S. troops.
The concerns expressed by lawmakers comes as the World Health Organization on Wednesday declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. President Donald Trump announced to the nation Wednesday night that the U.S. was restricting some travel from Europe to prevent the spread of the virus.
In the statement, Pocan said his office was contacted about a military base near the Iranian border where personnel had flu symptoms but did not test positive for the flew. Pocan’s office said the base was about 5 miles from an Afghan town known to have a handful of coronavirus cases.
“We asked the Department of Defense whether the Army has coronavirus testing kits physically at all bases abroad," the statement reads. "After following up, they are still unable to tell us yes or no answer—does every military base overseas have current access to coronavirus kits?
“The fact that we cannot figure out this basic answer for our troops serving abroad is very concerning. I hope that the military can get us an affirmative answer immediately," Pocan’s letter reads.
The Pentagon, U.S. Central Command, Army Surgeon General’s Office and U.S. Forces Afghanistan did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the coronavirus testing kits.
The Pentagon has made sweeping changes over the last several weeks as COVID-19 continues to spread.
Several U.S. military exercises have been axed or significantly scaled back to prevent the spread of the virus and safeguard U.S. personnel.
Pentagon officials announced significant restrictions on service member and family travel worldwide amid a series of new White House initiatives released Wednesday to try and curb the spread of the coronavirus throughout the United States.
Effective Friday, all troops, military civilian employees and family members traveling to or from locations with widespread transmission of the illness, designated “Warning Level 3” (which at the moment include most of Europe, South Korea and China) will “stop movement” for the next 60 days, per a memo signed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
With the Pentagon already greatly restricting travel to fight the spread of the coronavirus,, U.S. Central Command is adding additional caveats for travel among troops within the command’s area of operations amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to CENTCOM commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., there’s concern the virus could spread into countries that share a border with Iran. Iran is neighbors with Iraq, where the U.S. has up to 6,000 troops.
“Right now, we believe we have good precautions in place,” McKenzie said. “We’ve cut back significantly on intra-theater travel.”
Reporter Patricia Kime contributed to this story.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.