Austin Catches COVID Again and Is Working from Home

Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III.
Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III answers questions during a press conference the Pentagon, July 20, 2022. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday he has tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time and will keep up his work while quarantining at home through Friday.

Austin, who is vaccinated, said he received the positive test results in the morning and had only mild symptoms from the virus. He was avoiding contact with others for five days, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The announcement comes more than eight months after the defense secretary contracted COVID for the first time on Jan. 2, when he also reported mild symptoms and said he was following his doctor's advice.

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    The defense secretary is among several military and government officials, including President Joe Biden, who have recently caught the virus, which is responsible for more than 1 million deaths in the U.S. and has caused a global pandemic that began in early 2020.

    "I will retain all authorities and plan to maintain my normal work schedule virtually from home," Austin, 69, said in a released statement. "Now, as in January, my doctor told me that my fully vaccinated status, including two booster shots, is why my symptoms are less severe than would otherwise be the case.

    "I will continue to consult closely with my doctor in the coming days," said Austin, who is fully vaccinated and has had two booster shots.

    Military troops were among the first to have access to COVID vaccines when they were developed and given emergency authorizations for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2020. By August 2021, about 73% of active-duty service members had voluntarily taken at least one shot of the vaccines.

    Austin made the decision that month -- one year ago -- that the vaccines would be mandatory for the military following full authorization by the FDA. The decision was backed by Biden, and the vast majority of the force has followed the order and been vaccinated, though some small pockets of troops have resisted and filed lawsuits over the requirement.

    About 1.9 million active-duty troops are fully vaccinated; 95 have died of COVID during the pandemic, according to the most recent data reported by the Pentagon. At least 417 civilian workers have died.

    "Vaccinations continue to both slow the spread of COVID-19 and to make its health effects less severe," Austin said. "Vaccination remains a medical requirement for our workforce, and I continue to encourage everyone to get fully vaccinated and boosted."

    Austin last met with Biden in person on July 29.

    The president, who is 79 years old, has had his own brushes with COVID in recent weeks. The White House announced Biden, who is vaccinated and had two booster shots, had tested positive for the virus on July 21 and was having "very mild symptoms." He quarantined until testing negative.

    Biden again tested positive July 30, just days after leaving quarantine, in what was believed to be a rare rebound case among patients who take the antiviral drug Paxlovid. He continued work and, on Aug. 7, the White House physician cleared him for public engagement and travel.

    -- Travis Tritten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

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