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Pentagon, VA adapting as number of COVID-19 cases grows, officials say

July 7 (UPI) — The Department of Defense has opened an outdoor facility for “safe and socially distant workouts,” and officials say they are closely monitoring and adapting as the number of COVID-19 cases among active duty military continues to climb.

The number of cumulative cases listed on the Pentagon’s website as of Monday was 14,992, up from 12,521 Thursday.

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The number of cases has doubled during June, and 2,471 new cases of COVID-19 were reported over the holiday weekend.

Cases among veterans are also up, with Veterans Affairs officials reporting nearly 5,000 active cases of coronavirus among patients in the agency’s care — a threefold increase over the last month.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told reporters Tuesday that so far the department is managing the new caseload well.

“We are preparing in case there is a major rebound,” Wilkie said. “But if you remember, the earliest predictions for this were hundreds of thousands of cases and tens of thousands of deaths, and we have not seen that.”

At a briefing last week, Thomas Muir, the director of Washington Headquarters Services, said the department is ready to advise local commanders. They must adhere, however, to clear metrics in relaxing controls — such as a a 14-day downward trend for flu-like and COVID-like symptoms, and a 14-day downward trend for new cases, he said.

The uptick has not yet affected the “green list” of bases where travel restrictions have been lifted.

“Our policy is tiered,” Lernes Hebert, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel, said Monday. “So, the state has to first meet the ‘gating criteria,’ but once they meet it, then we devolve down to the installation assessments.”

Last month U.S. Special Operations Command Central opened a new outdoor human performance facility at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. The ideas is to provide “the opportunity for safe and socially distant workouts while allowing a venue to maintain personal wellness,” the Pentagon announced in a Tuesday press release.

SOCCENT officials said the opening of the new facility was necessary as indoor gyms largely remain closed.

”This is a great moment for us to be able to expand the [human performance] facilities,” Navy Rear Adm. H. Wyman Howard III, the Soccent commander. ”With this new workout area, our teammates will have ample room to perform workouts necessary to keep the team fit for the fight.”

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