The Defense Department recorded five additional deaths of service members from COVID-19 in the past week, the deadliest for the U.S. military of the pandemic.
According to Pentagon data published Wednesday, 34 service members have now died of coronavirus infections, up from 29 a week ago. During the same time frame, the DoD recorded 4,156 new infections among U.S. troops, bringing the total for the pandemic to 222,138.
The military services have not yet released the names of the deceased, and it is unclear whether all the deaths occurred in the past week or were the result of delayed reporting to the DoD from active-duty, Reserve or National Guard units.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 333,000 DoD beneficiaries have contracted COVID-19 and 409 have died, including the 34 service members, 17 family members, 267 civilian DoD employees and 91 contractors.
Defense Department officials have urged personnel to get vaccinated against the virus but have stopped short of mandating the immunizations while they are distributed under an emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said earlier this month that by Sept. 15 he planned to ask President Joe Biden to order troops to get vaccinated or would make it mandatory as soon as the FDA formally approves the vaccines' use, expected by the end of the month.
The deaths come as the Delta variant of COVID-19 is striking some states particularly hard. U.S. Northern Command announced Wednesday that five teams of military medical personnel are preparing to mobilize to support medical care in affected regions, starting in Lafayette, Louisiana.
At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a team of 20 military medical personnel, including nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors, will deploy to Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center to bolster hospital staff caring for COVID-19 patients.
"This is the second time Department of Defense medical assets have deployed to support Louisiana during the pandemic," said U.S. Army North Commander Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson. "While COVID-19 continues to challenge the community here and elsewhere in the U.S., we remain steadfast in our support of our local, state and federal partners."
As of Wednesday, 1.07 million service members have been fully vaccinated against the illness, or slightly more than 50% of the total force, including the Reserve and National Guard.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Aug. 10 that 73% of the active-duty force had received at least one shot and roughly 62% were fully vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that all vaccinated Americans over age 18 should expect to get a booster shot eight months after their last shot -- an effort to end the pandemic and save lives.
"Right now, our quickest path to getting COVID-19 under control, once and for all, is getting vaccines to those who need them as quickly as possible," said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy during a press conference.
More than 37 million Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus and 623,956 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Within the U.S. military, 14 active-duty Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers; 10 Navy and Navy Reserve sailors; and five Air Force and Air National Guard members have died, along with the five who have yet to be identified.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
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