COVID-19 Fears Hit the Joint Chiefs

Concerns about COVID-19 infection have reached the highest levels of the military, with one member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff going into self-quarantine and another testing positive on May 9 and then testing negative twice.

Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, was tested for the third time on May 11 at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and received a negative result. Lengyel tested positive before a White House meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on May 9, and subsequently tested negative the same day.

“Thank you to all who have expressed concern for my health and safety,” Lengyel said in a statement. “I am happy to continue to focus on the efforts of the 46,000 Guardsmen and women who are battling this pandemic in the 50 states, three territories, and District of Columbia.”

Within the Air Force, service leaders are tested “periodically” for the virus and as of May 11 all have tested negative, service spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.

Lengyel’s tests come as Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday is in quarantine at home after coming in contact with a family member who tested positive. Gilday tested negative for the virus on May 8, but is still in quarantine and did not attend the White House meeting.

The Pentagon said there will be “minimal impact” on regular operations with a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in isolation because they have access to secure communications equipment “and are able to engage in their duties while in quarantine,” department spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell said.

For example, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told Air Force Magazine that he teleworks from the Air House, and “those are some of my busiest days … nonstop VTC-ing.” The Air Force has “blue/silver” teams that alternate days inside the Pentagon, he said.

“We’re learning a ton in terms of how to keep operations going and how to continue to communicate,” he said. “It’s interesting just to try to be the example and set the standard. … We’re finding we can keep operations going across the Air Force, and we’re just finding new ways of doing it.”

Within the Guard, leadership is also distancing and working remotely. Neither Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Scott Rice, nor Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Anderson, command chief master sergeant of the Air National Guard, has met with Lengyel in person in over a month, ANG spokesperson Lt. Col. Devin Robinson said via email.

“Since the Secretary of Defense raised the Health Protection Condition [HPCON] for all Department of Defense installations to ‘Charlie’ on March 25, Lt. Gen. Rice and Chief Master Sgt. Anderson have been practicing social distancing and have been utilizing a maximum telework approach to their duties,” he wrote.