Pentagon imposes stricter mask requirement for all troops and civilians

Cover your mouth AND nose, people.

Defense Department personnel will have to wear masks nearly all the time when they are on military installations now that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has added a significant amount of muscle to the military’s mask requirement.

In response to the novel coronavirus (COVID0-19) pandemic, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper mandated in April that military and civilian personnel wear masks “when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers.”

Now, service members and other Defense Department personnel are required to wear masks both in- and outdoors in most situations when they are in “any location other than the individual’s home, including outdoor shared spaces,” Austin wrote in a Feb. 4 memo.

“Locations where masks must be worn include any common areas or shared workspaces (including open floorplan office spaces, cubicle embankments, and conference rooms) and in outdoor shared spaces,” according to the memo which also says the Defense Department’s new mask policy complies with the most recent guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Austin’s memo lists only a handful of exceptions to the new requirement that Defense Department personnel wear masks.

The memo lays out “brief periods” when Defense Department personnel do not have to wear their masks: when they are eating or drinking; when they need to lower their masks to be identified by security; when one person is alone in an office with floor-to-ceiling walls with the door closed; and in order to accommodate someone with a disability.

Department heads can authorize other exceptions on a case-by-case basis, the memo says.

If troops need the mask mandate waived so that they can meet mission requirements, the exception will need to be approved by a one-star general or admiral, Senior Executive Service member, or an installation commander.

Austin’s memo also reminds people that their masks have to cover both their noses and mouths.

“COVID-19 is one of the deadliest threats our nation has ever faced,” Austin wrote. “As we have done throughout our history, the military will rise to this challenge. It is imperative that we do all we can to ensure the health and safety of our force, our families, and our communities so we can prevail in this fight.”

Featured image: A soldier wears a cloth face covering as she enters Blanchfield Army Community Hospital on Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on May 28, 2020. (Photo by Maria Christina Yager, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital.)

Jeff Schogol
Jeff Schogol

is the senior Pentagon reporter for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 15 years. You can email him at schogol@taskandpurpose.com, direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter, or reach him on WhatsApp and Signal at 703-909-6488. Contact the author here.

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