March 20 (UPI) -- A Friday Department of Defense memo signaled that defense contractors and their suppliers are "critical infrastructure" and urged them to stay on the job amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
"If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as designated by the Department of Homeland Security, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule," Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord wrote in a Friday memo, Defense News reported.
"We need your support and dedication in these trying times to ensure the security of this Nation. I understand that this national emergency presents a challenge and we are dedicated to working closely with you to ensure the safety of the workforce and accomplishments of the national security mission."
Included in Lord's memo were the aerospace sector, mechanical and software engineers, manufacturing and production workers, information technology support, security staff, security personnel, intelligency support, aircraft and weapons systems mechanics and maintainers as well as suppliers of medical suppliers and pharmaceuticals.
Lord also advised that personnel working for companies, and subcontractors who perform for the Defense Departments, should be considered essential -- with the exception of contractors who perform tasks like providing office supplies, recreational support or lawn care.
That could cover as many as 100,000 companies, according to Breaking Defense, which reported the memo came after daily calls with the heads of major defense industry groups to share information and address concerns about the pandemic.
Spread of COVID-19 has sent the global economy reeling, with dramatic fluctuations in U.S. stock markets.
The virus has also created massive disruptions to workplaces, with white-collar businesses urging remote work and schools in many states closing as public-health experts recommend individuals avoid crowded spaces and practice social distancing.
Thousands of service-industry workers -- primarily in restaurants and bars -- have lost their jobs amid restrictions from local governments, even as grocers like Walmart have begun to recruit more aggressively.