The nation’s top military leaders were under self-quarantine Tuesday after a senior Coast Guard official tested positive for the coronavirus, the Pentagon said. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, and the vice chairman, Gen. John Hyten, were among those affected, U.S. officials said.
Military leaders who were in contact with Adm. Charles W. Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, were told Monday evening that he had tested positive, and they were all tested Tuesday morning, according to several U.S. officials. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that none have exhibited symptoms or have so far tested positive.
Ray was in a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff late Friday morning in what’s called the Tank – the classified meeting room in the Pentagon. Officials said that is where most of the military leaders were exposed to him, but he also had other meetings with officials.
The news stunned officials at the Pentagon. Top leaders there have largely remained free of the virus, although there have been a number of outbreaks across the active-duty force and the reserves around the nation and overseas. Overall more than 47,000 service members have tested positive for the virus, as of Monday, 625 have been hospitalized and eight have died.
It is not known how Ray contracted the virus. He attended an event for military families at the White House about ten days ago, as did several military leaders. But it’s not clear if he contracted the virus there or elsewhere, officials said.
The Coast Guard said in a statement that Ray felt mild symptoms over the weekend and was tested on Monday.
Hoffman said the quarantining of leaders won’t affect “the operational readiness or mission capability of the U.S. Armed Forces.” He added that, “senior military leaders are able to remain fully mission capable and perform their duties from an alternative work location.”
Top military leaders have robust communication systems installed in their homes as a routine matter, and many have sporadically worked from home during the pandemic for a variety of reasons. Some stayed home after having been exposed to the virus and other military leaders have self-quarantined for a short time after returning from travel.
Hoffman’s statement did not identify those affected, but multiple U.S. officials said that besides Milley, they included the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard, as well as the head of U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Paul Nakasone. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss information not yet made public.
At least 14 military officials – including some staff members of the chiefs – are believed to have been potentially exposed to the virus after meetings last week with Ray. Hoffman said the military is conducting additional contact tracing to identify anyone who may have been exposed.