US Troops Will Be Directed to Wear Face Masks, SecDef Says

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Marines and sailors pre-screen for the coronavirus disease
U.S. Navy Sailors with 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, pre-screen Marines and sailors for the coronavirus disease after returning from an exercise overseas on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, March 24, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Rachel K. Young-Porter)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that he was directing the use of face masks by the military worldwide to combat the spread of coronavirus.

"We're going to move toward face coverings" across the force, Esper said on ABC-TV's "This Week."

He gave no immediate details, but said a directive would be issued later Sunday on when, where and how face masks, and what types, should be used to guard against coronavirus.

Esper's announcement followed recommendations Friday from the White House coronavirus task force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all Americans should consider the voluntary use of face coverings when in public.

"We want to take every measure to protect our troops," Esper said. But he again cautioned that the military can't always follow the medical guidelines on social distancing and other measures in the close quarters of ships, submarines, bombers and tanks.

Esper has previously left it up to individual commanders to decide on how best to implement the guidelines in their areas of responsibility.

The upcoming directive on face masks in the military could also be expected to apply to dependents, civilian DoD personnel and contractors.

As of Saturday, the Defense Department reported more than 1,600 cases of coronavirus among service members, civilians, dependents and contractors and six deaths: one service member, two civilians, one dependent and two contractors.

The vast majority of the positive cases in DoD were considered moderate or mild, but 74 had been hospitalized as of Saturday, DoD said.

Esper's action comes as the number of coronavirus-positive cases and deaths in the U.S. and worldwide continued to surge.

In the U.S. there were more than 312,000 cases and 8,500 deaths as of Sunday morning, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported.

Worldwide, there were more than 1,225,000 cases and 66,500 deaths, Johns Hopkins said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

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