The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). As of this writing, 118 countries report more than 125,000 cases of virus contractions with more than 4,000 fatalities. In the United States alone, nearly 1,000 cases have been reported and more than 20 states have declared states of emergency to focus on mitigating the spread of the virus, according to the WHO.
For the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific service members, civilian personnel and family members living or operating in the Indo-Pacific, this article details prevention measures, virus identification, information resources, recent travel restrictions and points of contact.
Firstly, what is the Coronavirus? Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause the common cold or Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified, such as COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 spreads in similar ways as the flu. When someone who has COVID-19 coughs or exhales, they release droplets of infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects - such as desks, tables, or telephones - which can then transmit to others through touch. If someone is standing within three feet of a person with COVID-19, they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled by the infected person. Most people infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and recover. However, some go on to experience more serious illness and may require hospital care. Risk of serious illness rises with age: people over 60 seem to be more vulnerable than those under 60. People with weakened immune systems and people with conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness.
For those service members, civilian personnel and family members on the Hawaiian island of Oahu: if you have recently traveled outside of the United States or had close contact with someone who was sick and are experiencing a combination of feeling feverish, coughing and difficulty breathing, contact Tripler Army Medical Center and inform them of your symptoms. Tripler has been designated as the COVID-19 treatment facility and can be reached at (808) 433-6661 or (808) 433-3710. Do not walk in to inquire about symptoms; call first to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. For those outside of Oahu, contact your closest military medical treatment facility.
The best way to help keep you and your family safe is to practice everyday sanitation and preventative actions to help prevent the spread of the virus, such as these U.S. Indo-Pacific Command guidelines:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Face masks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of face masks is typically only crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Of note, there are currently no reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. However, it is still best to practice safe hygiene when handling pets or animals, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Regarding travel for military personnel and their families: Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper issued a memo titled “Travel Restriction for DOD Components in Response to Coronavirus Disease 2019” that said beginning March 13 all DOD military and civilian personnel and their families “traveling to, from, or through areas that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention label as a Level 3 danger will stop movement for the next 60 days. This includes all forms of official travel, including permanent change of station (PCS), temporary duty and government-funded leave.” This restriction includes personal leave and other non-official travel for military personnel.
The following countries listed on Defense.gov have been designated as Level 3 countries: Austria, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Vatican City.
The memo also states that “effective March 13, 2020, and for the 60 days thereafter, concurrent official travel for family members of DoD uniformed personnel and civilian personnel is denied to CDC Travel Health Notices Level 2 (COVID-19) designated locations. Additionally, until the travel restrictions prescribed above are lifted, DOD civilian personnel hiring actions for positions in Level 2 and Level 3 designated locations are postponed for non-essential civilian personnel who have not yet begun travel.”
Additionally, effective March 13 commands must determine whether official travel to areas other than Level 3 countries are mission essential and must defer non-mission essential travel. “Mission-essential travel refers to work that must be performed to ensure the continued operations of mission-essential functions,” according to the memo.
For more information on COVID-19, preventative measures or updates to travel policies (official travel, PCSs, personal leave), the below links may be referenced:
MARFORPAC-specific information sites:
U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific informational website:
MARFORPAC Headquarters Battalion Facebook
U.S. INDO-PACIFIC Command
U.S. Department of Defense: Coronavirus Response:
Military Health System resources on coronavirus:
World Health Organization
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
CDC Travel Health Alerts:
U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories: