In a long-awaited and significant step towards normalcy in the wake of the COVID epidemic, the Department of Defense (DOD) has determined that masks are no longer required for vaccinated personnel, either indoors or outdoors on DOD facilities.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks sent a memo on Thursday to senior Pentagon leadership, commanders of all combatant commands, and all defense agency and DOD field activity directors that lifted the mask mandate in place since April 5, 2020. In keeping with the latest guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), masks are no longer necessary for personnel that are fully vaccinated and are at least two weeks removed from their last dosage.
“Personnel who are not fully vaccinated should continue to follow applicable DOD mask guidance, including continuing to wear masks indoors,” Hicks’ memo said.
With that being said, Hicks cautioned that commanders and supervisors should not ask about an employees’ vaccination status, or make decisions about their ability to work on or off facility based on that information. They are, however, still within their rights to make exceptions to the memo in instances they see it fit to promote a safer workplace.
The memo also reminds DOD personnel that masks should still be worn in all places recommended by CDC guidance, such as in airports or on planes, trains or buses. A negative test result is still required to enter the United States on an international flight, and anyway leaving the U.S. should check ahead for regulations in the country they are headed to.
646,298 service members are fully vaccinated with another 283,710 partially, according to DOD figures as of 5 AM on May 14th. That means a grand total of 930,000 active and reserve military out of 2.19 million are at least partially vaccinated. The 42.5% of our armed forces that have been willing to be vaccinated falls pretty closely in line with Blue Star Families’ poll of service members and their dependents back in December of 2020, where 40% of respondents said they would get the vaccine.
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In his press briefing on May 6th, Defense Secretary Austin reiterated that service members will not be ordered to take the vaccine at this time:
“We’ve been constantly reviewing our performance and … our options, and we look at the data every day… I think armed with the right information, accurate information, troops will make good choices. And — and so our plan currently is to continue on the path that we’re on.”
-Feature image: U.S. Army photo courtesy of Fort Stewart Public Affairs