Gen. Mark Milley with Vice President Pence and President Trump at Milley’s official induction as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

WASHINGTON: Hours after President Trump turned his struggle against COVID into a dramatic White House photo op by removing his mask for the cameras, the virus forced six of the seven Joint Chiefs of Staff to self-quarantine after being exposed.

The Coast Guard said that Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray tested positive Monday after experiencing mild symptoms over the weekend.

A DoD official confirmed that:

  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley,
  • Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten,
  • Army Chief Gen. James McConville,
  • Air Force Chief Gen. CQ Brown,
  • Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday,
  • Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond
  • and National Guard Bureau chief Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson

had all met with Ray recently, and despite testing negative, all have entered quarantine. “All have been tested with no positive results to report and none are exhibiting any symptoms,” the official said.

One member of the Joint Chiefs is in the clear, so far. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger has been traveling overseas and did not attend meetings with Adm. Ray at the Pentagon. In addition to those officials, Cyber Command head Army Gen. Paul Nakasone is in quarantine as well.

Ray is the highest-ranking uniformed national security official to suffer symptoms of the COVID virus.

Pentagon officials said that it’s business as usual as far as getting work done, and there has been no disruption in communications between officials. The Joint Chiefs are not in operational command of troops overseas — the geographic combatant commanders report directly to the Defense Secretary, although the chairman is the military’s top advisor to the president — so overseas operations have not been effected.

UPDATE BEGINSThe chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees the military, said “the national security implications of the President’s recklessness cannot be overstated.” America’s adversaries are watching, Smith said. “Our adversaries are always looking for any weakness to exploit. President Trump’s pathetic attempts to exude strength aren’t fooling anyone – Americans know he is weak and so do those who wish us harm.”

Smith sharply criticized the president for the example he and top members of his administration have set in combatting the coronavirus.

“Now, after publicly flouting the recommendations of his own medical experts and scientists, the President has contracted COVID-19. Since announcing that he tested positive for the virus, the President’s antics have been downright reckless and harmful.”

Smith dismissed the president’s claims to be a great leader who has taken risks to show the country it should not fear the virus. “How can we ever recover if we can’t even count on our commander in chief to follow the most basic guidelines established by his own government? Instead of leading, President Trump continues to willfully jeopardize the safety and security of the American people and our military apparatus,” he said.UPDATE ENDS

It’s not certain when Ray contracted the virus, but he did attend an event for Gold Star families at the White House on Sunday, Sept. 27. That was one day after the White House held a large Rose Garden ceremony to announce the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to be a Supreme Court justice.

Several other top military officials, including Gen. Milley, were also at the Gold Star event, but have continued to test negative.

Few attendees wore masks for the event, and none practiced social distancing either outside, or at a reception inside the White House. Since that event, at least three senators, the president, and several of his top officials have tested positive for COVID-19, along with an unknown number of other White House employees.

“We are conducting additional contact tracing and taking appropriate precautions to protect the force and the mission,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, all potential close contacts from these meetings are self-quarantining and have been tested this morning. No Pentagon contacts have exhibited symptoms and we have no additional positive tests to report at this time.”

The Pentagon has long taken the COVID threat seriously, with many civilian and military staffers working from home part-time, and remaining masked. That stands in contrast to the White House, where President Trump and his staff have routinely ignored the guidelines established by the CDC that Pentagon officials follow.