The Pentagon released guidance Tuesday for testing military personnel, civilian employees, family members and contractors for COVID-19, affirming its stance that it will not test patients who have mild cases or no symptoms at all.
According to a memo released by Matthew Donovan, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, testing asymptomatic patients or those with mild forms of the novel coronavirus doesn't affect outcomes and could prevent a seriously ill patient from receiving a test.
Furthermore, he added, a negative test in a patient without symptoms is not enough to clear them to return to duty.
Under the guidance, military health care providers are to determine who should receive tests, based on symptoms, the likelihood of patients having contracted the disease in their communities and the potential for severe outcomes.
Hospitalized patients are to be tested, as are symptomatic patients at high risk for developing a severe case of the disease, including those who are older or have an underlying health condition.
Civilian Defense Department employees can be tested if they meet the criteria and their jobs are essential to national security. Family members can also receive testing if they are symptomatic, hospitalized or otherwise at high risk for severe illness.
The guidance also spells out the criteria patients must meet to return to duty. To qualify to go back to work, three days must have passed since a patient has registered a fever without the use of fever-suppressing medications; they must not have respiratory symptoms; and at least seven days must have passed since symptoms developed.
They also can return to work if they meet the symptom abatement criteria and have received negative test results from two consecutive nasal swabs, taken 24 hours apart.
Some troops and family members have complained that they don't know the extent of coronavirus infections in their communities because testing is not widespread.
Donovan said the new guidance applies to all branches and will protect at-risk populations, maximize testing and improve force health decisions.
As of Tuesday, 1,975 service members had tested positive for COVID-19, including 470 Army, 351 Air Force, 140 Marine Corps and 513 Navy personnel. An additional 1,185 family members, civilian employees and family members also have confirmed cases.