The Coast Guard has been feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic from afflicted recruits and USCG families to this week’s positive test result for Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Charles Ray.
Ray tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday after feeling mild symptoms over the weekend, the Coast Guard said Tuesday. Ray was at the White House on Sept. 27 for an event with Gold Star families, and was also at the Pentagon last week for meetings with other senior military leaders.
This sparked off a series of quarantines among top brass. “Some meeting attendees included other service chiefs,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Tuesday in a statement. “We are conducting additional contact tracing and taking appropriate precautions to protect the force and the mission. Out of an abundance of caution, all potential contacts from these meetings are self-quarantining and have been tested this morning. No Pentagon contacts have exhibited symptoms and we have no additional positive tests to report at this time.”
Hoffman said military readiness was not affected and “senior military leaders are able to remain fully mission capable and perform their duties from an alternative work location.”
“DoD has been following CDC guidelines since April with regard to temperature testing, social distancing, and the wearing of masks to the greatest extent when social distancing is not possible and will continue to do so,” he said.
All classes at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., were moved online Thursday after a cadet tested positive for the virus during random testing testing on Wednesday. A civilian employee also tested positive, according to NBC Connecticut.
The academy said it would be mass testing to determine the extent of COVID-19 on campus. Several other cadets in addition to the one who tested positive were placed in quarantine separate from the barracks. Academy spokesman Cmdr. Dave Milne said that currently about 15 percent of the campus is tested for the virus on a weekly basis, and they aim to bump that up to 20 percent.
Connecticut’s Department of Health issued a COVID-19 alert for New London on Thursday due to a “significant” rise in new cases. Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 3, New London recorded at least 115 new COVID-19 cases to raise the daily case rate to 30.5 per 100,000 population, one of the highest in the state, the department said.
Last week, six COVID-19 cases, including two children of Coast Guard members, were reported at Kodiak Air Station in Alaska. One of the children was believed to have been exposed at the Child Development Center Annex, which was closed as families of children who attended daycare there were asked to quarantine for 14 days. The commissary and exchange were also closed, and the base started testing personnel.
As of Tuesday, 13 people linked to the Coast Guard have tested positive for COVID-19 — one of the cases is a crew member on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spar — and more cases should be expected as contact tracing continues, Capt. Edward Hernaez said.
“This approach has resulted in a large number of members and families being placed in quarantine,” Hernaez said in a letter to service members. “Our initial efforts have been very successful but we fully anticipate more COVID cases to surface over the next two weeks.”
The Coast Guard station has gone from an amber risk level to red, and will remain there until the outbreak has subsided with a 14-day downward trajectory in cases.
“The coronavirus is still an ever-present threat to our way of life,” Hernaez said. “I really hope that message of wearing a mask and the importance of taking this virus seriously really does stick with the community.”
In accordance with established Coast Guard COVID policies, Ray has been quarantining from home.
“The Coast Guard is following established policies for COVID, per CDC guidelines, to include quarantine and contact tracing. According to CDC guidelines, any Coast Guard personnel that were in close contact will also quarantine,” USCG said.
“Since April, the Coast Guard has been following CDC, DoD and DHS guidelines for temperature testing, social distancing to the greatest extent possible, and the wearing of masks when social distancing is not possible,” the service added. “The Coast Guard remains ready to ensure our Nation’s maritime safety, security and stewardship.”