DoD Making Masks Mandatory Again, Even for the Vaccinated, in Some Places

Airmen await takeoff in a C-17 Globemaster III
Airmen await takeoff in a C-17 Globemaster III during exercise Nexus Dawn at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., April 24, 2021 (U.S. Air Force/2nd Lt. Daniel Phelps)

The Defense Department on Wednesday resumed requiring all people – including those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – to wear masks indoors at military facilities in places where the disease is spreading quickly.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said in a memo that, effective immediately, all service members, federal employees, on-site contractors and visitors must wear masks when indoors in areas of “substantial or high community transmission” of COVID-19, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This applies to everybody, regardless of vaccination status, Hicks said. Those who are not fully vaccinated must keep physically distancing themselves from others, she said.

Read Next: Congress Rebuffs Air Force's Plan to Retire Older Aircraft, Putting A-10 Move on Hold

According to CDC guidelines, areas with substantial transmission levels are where there have been 50 to 99.99 new cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days, and high transmission levels are where there are 100 new cases per 100,000 or more in the previous week. Data on community transmission levels can be found at the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker website.

For example, Bexar County, Texas, where Joint Base San Antonio is located, now has a high level of community transmission, as do places like Bossier Parish, Louisiana, home of Barksdale Air Force Base, and Clark County, Nevada, home of Nellis Air Force Base.

Hicks said that people entering defense installations, workspaces or other facilities who do not have a mask may be provided one at the installation.

The Defense Department in May began allowing fully vaccinated people to no longer wear masks, whether indoors or outdoors.

But the military’s move today to tighten mask rules comes as concerns are growing about plateauing vaccination rates and the spread of a highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19. On Tuesday, the CDC recommended even fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.

The Navy also announced Wednesday that two more sailors had died of complications from COVID in the last week.

California is preparing to require its National Guardsmen to get the COVID vaccine by early next month, or be required to undergo regular testing.

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday ordered the majority of its health-care workers to get vaccinated.

And the Washington Post and CNN reported that President Joe Biden is preparing to announce Thursday a requirement for all federal employees and contractors to get vaccinated or have to be tested regularly.

But while the military is looking at the possibility of requiring troops to receive the vaccine, it cannot legally do so until the Food and Drug Administration issues its final approval for the drugs. The COVID vaccines are now approved under an emergency use authorization.

The FDA has been reviewing the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine since early May, and the Moderna vaccine since early June. It is not yet certain when it will grant them full approval.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: Amid COVID Spike, Air Force Wing in South Korea Orders Unvaccinated to Stay in Rooms

Story Continues