On the heels of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocating the use of face masks while in public, the Pentagon has released its own updated policy ordering all personnel under its purview to cover their faces.
As case numbers continue to climb amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Defense Secretary Mark Esper appeared Sunday on ABC's "This Week," saying a military directive was coming regarding face masks.
Hours later, the Pentagon released its policy directing cloth face coverings for all personnel, including troops, civilians, family members, contractors and all others on Defense Department property in certain situations. The order sidestepped concerns around the nationwide shortage of N95 and surgical masks, telling personnel they will not be issued these in order to leave them available for medical professionals.
Instead, troops and other DoD-affiliated individuals are encouraged to make simple coverings out of clean T-shirts and other household materials, the Pentagon memo says.
"The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness will issue updated force health protection guidance on DoD implementation," it states. "The Military Departments will issue guidance on wear for Service members."
It's not clear when the military services will issue their specific guidance in light of the new directive.
Face coverings will be mandatory whenever people cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or places of work, the policy, signed by Esper, states. They're encouraged to wear the coverings in all public situations, it adds.
The guidance caveats that the directive must be observed "to the extent practical" and notes that face coverings may need to be pulled down at security checkpoints to verify identification.
The challenge of social distancing in the military was driven home this month when videos surfaced from aboard the carrier Theodore Roosevelt showing swarms of sailors gathered to send off Capt. Brett Crozier after he was relieved of command of the carrier following a request for aid addressing a coronavirus outbreak that became public.
"The Department of Defense is committed to taking every precaution to ensure the health and wellbeing of our Service members, DoD civilian employees, families, and the Nation in response to the [COVID-19] pandemic," the new memo states. "DoD supports, and will continue to implement, all measures necessary to mitigate risks to the spread of the disease, consistent with the Department's priorities to protect our people, safeguard our national security capabilities, and support the government's whole-of-nation response."
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.