The number of Covid-19 cases in the US military has nearly tripled since just before Christmas, according to Defense Department statistics.
On Dec. 22, the department reported 5,285 cases among all military service members. By Jan. 5, it skyrocketed to 13,940 according to published statistics.
The jump reflects, to some extent, what is happening in civilian society as the Omicron variant has taken hold and case rates have risen in many communities across the country, defense officials say. The Defense Department does not test specifically for the Omicron variant but officials say there is every reason to believe the highly contagious variant has hit the military force. Updated statistics will be published Wednesday by the department.
Defense officials point out that even with the tripling, it’s a small percentage of the more than two million in the active duty, National Guard and reserve forces.
This comes as the military is increasing health restrictions in several places. Wright Patterson Air Force Base has moved to the highest level of health protection measures which includes now allowing only 15% of the workforce in the office at a time.
The move comes as positivity rates have increased in the region, the Air Force said. It is currently the only major US military installation rated as Delta.
In Japan, US forces are now largely confined to base except for mandatory travel circumstances. And at the Pentagon, stronger health protection measures have also been put into place.
The military also saw a rise in deaths due to Covid-19 in September and October as the Delta variant surged according to Defense Department statistics. As of Sept. 1, there were 40 military member deaths due to Covid-19. By Jan. 5 the total was 86.
Defense officials note that most occurred in September and October, 18 and 13 respectively. The assessment is that is due not only to the Delta variant but services had not yet reached the final requirement for mandatory vaccination. By November, there were only four military member deaths, seven in December, and four so far in January according to a defense official.
One base that has seen a post holiday surge is Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which currently has an estimated 50% positivity rate among those being tested. The base hospital, Womack Army Medical Center, was at 100% capacity at the end of last week, a military official there told CNN.
Fort Bragg is headquarters for much of the Army’s rapid response capability in a crisis. So far those units have not been impacted to the point they cannot deploy, but commanders are prepared to supplement with other troops if needed.