Pentagon Bars Most Foreign Visitors as More Personnel Contract Virus

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Members of the Pentagon Press Corps practice social distancing
Members of the Pentagon press corps attend a briefing in which chairs are a recommended distance apart to prevent the spread of disease. (Defense Department via Twitter)

The Defense Department's iconic headquarters building near Washington, D.C. is rolling out new restrictions to entry and encouraging personnel to work from home as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.

Defense Department officials said the Pentagon is moving to Health Protection Condition Bravo, indicating an increased threat of disease transmission, and adding additional screening for building access, barring international partners and visitors; those without official business; and anyone who has been overseas in a location designated Level 2 or Level 3 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the last 14 days.

"Those without Pentagon access will not be allowed Pentagon access," a defense official told reporters on a call Saturday, adding that only those with official business would be allowed in.

Meanwhile, the official said, the Pentagon is encouraging all non-essential personnel to work remotely if possible, although those requiring classified networks will continue to come into the building.

The new restrictions come as the number of military-connected personnel infected with coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, continues to rise. To date, 10 troops have tested positive with the virus, one of them requiring hospitalization; and 11 others have also been diagnosed with coronavirus, including one civilian DoD employee, eight military dependents and two contractors, one of whom has been hospitalized.

For those returning from travel overseas, the U.S. military is now requiring across-the-board self-quarantine for 14 days, and asking those with symptoms to contact their health care provider for necessary care and testing.

The Pentagon has also stopped building tours, closed its gymnasium and athletic center. It's restricting access to Armed Forces Retirement Homes in Washington, D.C. and Gulfport, Mississippi as well, the official said. Official ceremonies, including retirements, promotions and award presentations, have all been put on hold.

Unlike the White House, the Pentagon has yet to implement temperature checks for any personnel upon entry to the building. The White House said Saturday it had begun the measure for any personnel who could come into contact with President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence.

"It's a risk-ladder [measure], and we have not adopted it yet," the official said.

The official noted that the Pentagon had spaced chairs in its press briefing room several feet apart to practice "social distancing," something not possible in the White House briefing room; and added that senior military leaders in the building had also adopted social distancing practices.

The Pentagon's internal Tricare DiLorenzo clinic is equipped with the ability to collect samples and have them tested for coronavirus, if necessary, officials said. To date, they added, no one in the building has tested positive.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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