Navy Orders Urinalysis to Continue -- But with Fewer People in the Room

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An operations specialist conducts a monthly urinalysis test of assigned Reserve Sailors
Operations Specialist 2nd Class Tanya Middlebrooks conducts a monthly urinalysis test of assigned Reserve Sailors June 1, 2019 at Navy Operational Support Center Pensacola (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Danica M. Sirmans)

The Navy has determined that urinalysis drug testing should continue, even as the service suspends physical fitness assessments and some grooming standards amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

However, according to a new message to sailors, the process will be modified in order to limit person-to-person contact and exposure to any contaminated surfaces, and observe social distancing guidelines.

According to a Navy administrative message released March 27, commands will continue to administer random drug tests "to the greatest extent possible." But commanders are allowed broad leeway -- at least for now -- to pause the process, or reduce the sample size and frequency. That authorization is intended to "support maximum operational flexibility and/or COVID-19 mitigation efforts," the message states.

"As we see individuals who are impacted, whether it's testing positive, or being required to self-quarantine or [having limited movement], it makes it very difficult for us to be one-size-fits-all," Lanorfeia Parker, the Navy's drug detection and deterrence program manager, told Military.com.

Related: Recruits Who Carried COVID-19 to Boot Camp Had Passed Temp Checks, Screenings

Typically, she said, random urinalysis takes place four times a month, with 15% of a unit selected for testing. The new guidance allows commanders to limit testing to two or three times a month, and sample fewer sailors if they see fit.

Regarding social distancing guidelines, the Navadmin stipulates that no more than 10 people can come together for testing at one time and that individuals must remain at least six feet apart. The 10-individual limit will include the urinalysis program coordinator (UPC) and observer, meaning that drug test staffing and the number of sailors tested at a time will likely be reduced.

The requirement to have direct observation of urine sample production has not gone away, however, although the observer may be standing farther off.

Sailors must also now remember to bring their own pen to their piss-test in order to eliminate the need for program coordinators to handle their urine sample.

"Sailors providing a specimen will tighten the lids securely to avoid cross contamination, adhere labels, affix security tape on the specimen bottle and place their specimen bottle in a secondary container with absorbent materials under the observation and direction of the [urinalysis program coordinator," the message states. "Sailors should use their own pen to sign and initial during the process. Additionally, UPCs should not handle the military identification card of the Sailor."

All surfaces should be wiped down throughout the collection period, the message adds, and all parties should refrain from physical contact and wash their hands thoroughly.

Parker said the Navy decided to keep up urinalysis protocols despite pandemic conditions because it needs to maintain the deterrence effect of the military's zero-tolerance policy regarding drug use.

"The reason why we're not canceling this altogether is because we still are a service that is required to be mission-ready," she said. "What we find is, during this time, individuals become isolated, they feel lonely, and that can itself push people to do things they wouldn't necessarily do."

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

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