Following new recommendations issued by the Center for Disease Control and the White House, the Secretary of Defense has orders all service members to wear cloth masks while in public in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus known as COVID-19.
Over 1,000 service members have tested positive for the coronavirus at the point of writing this piece, and although the young and fit men and women in the U.S. military don’t represent a high-risk category, the rapid spread of the illness could have a significant effect on military readiness. In order to prevent that from occurring, the U.S. military has enacted a number of broad initiatives aimed at keeping service members safe and healthy, caring for those who need it, and supporting a number of federal and civilian coronavirus initiatives.
“Effective immediately, to the extent practical, all individuals on DoD property, installations, and facilities will wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers (this does not include in a Service member’s or Service family member’s personal residence on a military installation),” reads the memo from Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The order extends to civilian personnel and dependents living or working on base. Local commanders are authorized to make exceptions to this order. All exceptions can be approved by local commanders, but must be reported up the chain of command for the Defense Department’s situational awareness. Some situations that may require allowances include checking military IDs.
For now, the Defense Department has no plans to issue face coverings to service members or civilians. Instead, they are encouraging service members and civilians to fashion cloth masks out of household items, mirroring the guidelines recommended by the CDC.
“As an interim measure, all individuals are encouraged to fashion face coverings from household items or common materials, such as clean T-shirts or other clean cloths that can cover the nose and mouth area,” according to the memo. “Medical personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators or surgical masks will not be issued for this purpose as these will be reserved for the appropriate personnel.”
Follow this link to find the CDC’s guidance on making your own mask.
The decision to mandate masks comes, in part, from the understanding that many military duties prohibit the standard six feet of space between individuals outlined in the federal “social distancing” guidelines. Some occupational specialties require close proximity to others, either as a result of the job itself or due to the environment the job is in.
“Our priority is making sure we can conduct our national security missions, and to do that we can’t always keep six feet distance. Whether you’re in an attack submarine, a bomber, in a tank, we have to take other measures,” Esper explained.
The Defense Secretary also said more guidance will be issued by the end of this week regarding appropriate use and wear of masks for service members.
For more information about how the coronavirus is affecting basic training graduations, click here.
If you want to learn more about how the coronavirus has affected PCS and TDY orders, click here.