San Antonio Leaders Cry ‘Cover Up’ Over Pentagon’s Refusal to Report Coronavirus Rates at Bases

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The U.S. military says it will no longer report the number of COVID-19 diagnoses at its bases, triggering cover-up accusations by San Antonio and Bexar County officials.

On the evening of Friday, March 27, a coronavirus webpage set up by Joint Base San Antonio confirmed 28 local military personnel, dependents and retirees had tested positive for COVID-19. However, shortly after, the tally was erased from the page, according to local media reports.

The Pentagon, citing security concerns, two days later told national news media that it’s stopped offering a facility-by-facility breakdown of cases. Going forward, it will only offer updates to its aggregate infection numbers. 

“I don’t know what the rationale is, but the public has a right to know,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said in an interview with the Current. “Employees at the bases need to know. That’s something we need to be very careful about.”

Few of the roughly 87,000 people working at San Antonio-area military facilities live on base, heightening the potential for infections to spread through the larger community, Wolff said. That makes it vital for local health officials to be able to track on-base cases.

At press time late last week, the Department of Defense reported 1,500 infections and five deaths so far among military personnel, civilian workers, dependents and contractors.

“This is a global pandemic, and the public has a right to know the number of COVID-19 cases within our community,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement emailed to the Current. “Additionally, the lack of information is complicating a coordinated pandemic response at the state and federal level.”

City and county leaders are already at odds with the Trump White House over its lack of transparency when it shipped Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China and stranded cruise ships to Lackland AFB for federal quarantine.

“It’s disconcerting,” Nirenberg told the Washington Post last month. “Throughout the course of this, what I’ve seen is that the lack of coordination at the highest levels of this president’s administration is simply stunning.”

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