The military's role in detecting, containing, and treating the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

March 23, 2020
U.S. Army researchers released a solicitation in March asking industry to develop technologies to slow the spread of, and treat those with the virus.

THE MIL & AERO COMMENTARY – Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), as everyone knows, is changing life as we know it, and its effects will be felt for years, if not for decades, to come. People are huddling at home, with little hint of when life will get back to normal. Work has ceased or is altered heavily, sporting events on all levels have disappeared. Even a trip to the grocery story is fraught with fear and anxiety.

U.S. military forces are not exempt from the physical and cultural effects of the virus reverberating through society. So how might the military play a role in bringing this pandemic under control? Certainly military leaders have an interest in taking part. Warfighters by the thousands can move quickly and widely in the world, through areas widely infected with the virus, and run a big risk of spreading the virus if leaders fail to take the proper precautions.

History shows that the military played an unenviable role in virus spread in previous pandemics -- most notably the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918, which killed between 50 million and 100 million people. One range of speculation has it that the Spanish Flu actually began in the U.S., not Spain, in Haskell County, Kan. Young men infected with the virus spread it to Camp Funston, Kan., outside of Fort Riley, which was a training site for U.S. recruits gathering to fight in World War I.

From Camp Funston the virus quickly made its way to other U.S. installations, and then to Europe with the first Doughboys heading to the trenches of the Western Front. The Spanish Flu, some speculate, may have started in a military hospital camp in Étaples in France, and spread from there to the trenches. Either way, the military was a major culprit in the virus's spread.

Related: Army experts reach out to industry to develop medical technology to contain COVID-19 novel coronavirus

No one wants to see that again. Today, in fact, the military is taking measures for containing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19. U.S. Army researchers released a solicitation in March asking industry to develop technologies to slow the spread of, and treat those with the virus.

The solicitation, MTEC-Presolicitation-COVID-19, is called Prototype Development to Combat Novel Coronavirus Disease COVID-19. It was released on 15 March 2020 by the Medical Research Acquisition Activity of the U.S. Army Medical Command at Fort Detrick, Md. The solicitation is on behalf of the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC) in Summerville, S.C., and seeks to develop prototypes aimed to combat COVID-19.

To do that, researchers want rapid new ways to accelerate the inquiry, testing, and fielding of new ways to detect, prevent, contain, and treat COVID-19 and similar future emerging medical threats. The project is fast, too; researchers want solutions as soon as possible, and no later than the end of December.

In a separate project, military researchers launched the Pandemic Prevention Platform (P3) program (DARPA-SN-17-20) in February to develop pandemic-prevention countermeasures to patients within 60 days of an outbreak.

Related: Military & Aerospace Electronics continues providing important news and information amid social distancing

The P3 program of the Biological Technologies Office of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., aims to revolutionize outbreak response by enabling rapid discovery, characterization, production, and testing of medical countermeasures to counter biological threats like COVID-19. The program seeks to generate virus stock, evolve antibodies, and develop gene-encoded antibody delivery methods.

DARPA briefed industry on the P3 program in late February and early March at two separate locations on the East and West Coasts. Doubtless these are only some of the first military initiatives to combat the COVID-19 virus.

In this spirit, Military & Aerospace Electronics will continue with its online communities and products to provide industry updates and key information to readers during the current social-isolation periods to contain COVID-19. Military & Aerospace Electronics continues to offer multiple social channels and websites, along with digital products such as webinars, white papers, and eBooks to keep readers informed of the global business effects of COVID-19.

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