Pentagon Approves Request to Provide Coronavirus Quarantine Housing for 1,000 People

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
February 1, 2020Updated: February 1, 2020

The Pentagon is preparing housing for up to 1,000 people who may need to be quarantined as they travel back to the United States due to the Novel Coronavirus, the department announced on Saturday.

“[Defense Secretary Mark Esper] has approved an RFA from [the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)] for housing support for 1,000 people who may need to be quarantined upon arrival from overseas travel due to the novel coronoravirus [sic],” chief department spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said in a statement. “Under the request, DOD will only provide housing support.”

This comes as U.S. health authorities confirmed the eighth case of the Novel Coronavirus in the United States earlier on Saturday. The Boston man in his 20s had recently traveled to Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the outbreak originated, the Massachusetts Department of Health announced in a press release. The man, who is a student at the University of Massachusetts, has been in home isolation since Jan. 29, after he started showing symptoms.

The installations selected by the department are the 168th Regiment Regional Training Institute in Fort Carson, Colorado, Travis Air Force Base in California, Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California, Hoffman said.

The spokesperson said that Defense Department personnel will not have direct contact with any potentially quarantined people and those people will not have access to any base location other than their assigned housing.

“The department’s primary responsibility is the safety of our force, our families and our base communities,” he said. “DOD has assessed this support will not negatively impact readiness or critical operations at this time.”

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Health Alex Azar declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency in the United States. The United States will also bar entry to foreign nationals who have been in mainland China in the past 14 days.

The temporary ban will not apply to the immediate families of U.S. citizens or permanent residents and will take effect at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday.

Currently, more than 20 other countries and territories have reported confirmed cases of the virus. No deaths have been reported outside China. Inside China, state figures place the number of infections at more than 10,000 and over 200 deaths, with numbers sharply rising on a daily basis, however, experts say the actual number of infections is likely to be far higher.

The Pentagon said in a statement on Friday they are working with other departments in an effort to address the coronavirus outbreak. A department press secretary, Alyssa Farah, said in a statement that the March Air Reserve Base in California and the Department of Defense was ready to provide housing support for nearly 200 people who have been evacuated from Wuhan, including State Department employees, their families, and U.S. citizens.

She said that if they identify ill individuals, the HHS “has procedures in place to transport them to a local civilian hospital.”

Coronavirus is a name describing a large classification of viruses that are common in many animal species including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus originates from animals and can infect people, albeit rarely, and can spread from person to person such as in the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Common symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Cathy He contributed to this report.