US military announces first servicemember death due to COVID-19

The coronavirus has given life to all kinds of wartime metaphors — after all, it’s natural to compare doctors and nurses to soldiers on the front lines against a deadly pandemic.

On Monday, the Pentagon announced that the coronavirus had claimed its first U.S. solider, the Washington Examiner reported. Fifty-seven-year-old Army Captain Douglas Linn Hickok, a physician’s assistant and New Jersey National Guardsman, died Saturday.

“I am deeply saddened by the COVID-19-related death of Army Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok, a physician assistant who was a New Jersey National Guardsman,” Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in a statement released Tuesday, according to the Examiner.

Coronavirus claims first U.S. soldier

Hickok had been hospitalized since March 21 after contracting the deadly virus. The Jackson, New Jersey native was also a civilian physician’s assistant and was not on active duty when he was infected, according to ABC7 in New York.

“Today is a sad day for the Department of Defense as we have lost our first American service member – active, reserve or Guard – to Coronavirus,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a statement. “This is a stinging loss for our military community, and our condolences go out to his family, friends, civilian co-workers and the entire National Guard community. The news of this loss strengthens our resolve to work ever more closely with our interagency partners to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) also expressed his sympathy, tweeting: “Our thoughts are with his wife, children, and their family.”

COVID-19 spreading in military

The soldier’s death comes as the number of infections in the military has increased, fueling concerns about military readiness. As of Tuesday, the Pentagon counted 1,204 cases, including 673 service members, 247 civilians, 212 dependents, and 72 contractors, the Washington Examiner reported.

More than 4,000 Americans have died as of Wednesday, according to U.S. News and World Report, a stunning toll since the first American died from the coronavirus in late February. As America battles the pandemic, the military has stepped up to outfit temporary hospitals across the country, and thousands of National Guard troops have been activated nationwide, according to the Military Times.

In New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, the United States Army Corps of Engineers converted the massive Javits Center into a 2,900-bed hospital. A Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds arrived in New York on Monday, days after a similar ship docked in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, in a distressing development, a coronavirus outbreak on an aircraft carrier docked off Guam, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, is worsening. The crew will quarantine in hotels in the U.S. territory after the ship’s captain sent an urgent letter this week requesting permission to offload most of the ship’s 4,000-person crew, The Hill reported.

Pentagon limiting information

As the coronavirus continues to spread through the military, the Pentagon has taken actions to limit public revelations about its cases, citing concern that America’s enemies could use the information to compromise national security. The Department of Defense (DOD) will issue daily updates, and the individual service branches will provide information as well, DOD press secretary Alyssa Farah said, adding:

As we confront this growing crisis, and out of a concern for operational security with regard to readiness, we will not report the aggregate number of individual service member cases at individual unit, base or Combatant Commands. We will continue to do our best to balance transparency in this crisis with operational security.

While Hickok is the first U.S. servicemember to die of the coronavirus, the Pentagon had already counted a contractor and a military spouse among the COVID-19 fatalities, and a German civilian who worked for the U.S. government also died Saturday. An unnamed civilian brought the fatality number to five, according to the Military Times.

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