The Department of Defense will no longer share base-specific information on coronavirus infections. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The military will no longer share specific numbers about coronavirus cases with the media and public, though officials say local health departments still will get the data.

Until last Friday, the number of people at Joint Base San Antonio who tested positive for the disease had been posted on the base’s website. However, after an order from top Defense Department officials, the military is no longer sharing such details.

“As we continue to grapple with the novel nature of COVID-19, we are constantly assessing and adapting not only how we respond to combating the virus, but also how we share critical public health information with our communities,” Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah said in a Monday statement.

Farah said the department continues to share data with local health departments. Michelle Vigil, public relations manager for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, confirmed that military officials are still reporting local coronavirus cases and hospitalizations of active duty service members, retirees, and dependents to the health department. Metro Health includes these numbers from Joint Base San Antonio in its daily update on the total number of coronavirus cases in Bexar County.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called for Pentagon officials to continue sharing the data publicly, saying it will help residents of communities with military bases better understand how the virus is spreading.

“This is a global pandemic, and the public has a right to know the number of COVID-19 cases within our community,” Nirenberg said. “Additionally, the lack of information is complicating a coordinated pandemic response at the state and federal level. One of the biggest battles that we have is helping people understand the seriousness of the situation, and obscuring the number of confirmed cases is destructive.”

The Defense Department will release a daily update of all coronavirus cases among service members and other personnel, Farah said.

As of early Monday, the latest available, those totaled 1,204 current cases – 673 military, 247 civilians, 212 dependents, and 72 contractors. On Monday, an Army National Guardsman from New Jersey became the first service member to die of coronavirus, according to the department.

In a Reuters interview last week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the military is concerned about the use of more specific data by U.S. adversaries.

“What we want to do is give you aggregated numbers,” Esper told Reuters. “But we’re not going to disaggregate numbers because it could reveal information about where we may be affected at a higher rate than maybe some other places.”

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.