As coronavirus cases increase, Defense Secretary Mark Esper places new restriction on Pentagon

Sean D. Naylor
National Security Correspondent

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday he is again raising the protection condition on the Pentagon, which will further restrict access to one of the world’s largest office buildings.

The Pentagon will now be at Level C, the second highest of the military’s five health protection conditions. Esper had previously raised the Pentagon’s health protection condition (HPCON) to B, which means “some community transmission” of coronavirus, at midnight on March 15. HPCON C, which equates to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Warning Level 3, means “sustained community transmission.”

The most recent escalation came two days after the Defense Department announced the death of a contractor who worked at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency in Crystal City, Va., a business district adjacent to the Pentagon.

The latest measure will limit the number of access points to the Pentagon, will increase the amount of personnel who will be teleworking and may require medical screening for those who continue to work from the Pentagon, Esper said.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper. (Screengrab via Yahoo News)

Previous steps to enable social distancing had already cut the number of people working in the Pentagon by “60 percent or more,” Esper said, adding that it’s possible that Pentagon employees would have to undergo medical screening, including temperature testing, before being allowed into the building.

However, the latest steps would not block accredited journalists from the Pentagon. “There is no intent whatsoever … to limit the access of the press,” said Esper, who has been giving frequent news conferences to the small number of reporters still covering the Pentagon from the inside.

“We want to keep the building open, certainly for essential personnel and for the media,” he said.

Esper said he expected to make more information available about the Pentagon’s health measures later on Monday.

To date, 133 U.S. military personnel have tested positive for the virus, Esper said.

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