The US military has fallen in line with the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations about mask-wearing.
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that service members, civilian workers, contractors and visitors must wear masks indoors at military installations and other facilities “owned, leased or otherwise controlled” by the Defense Department in areas where COVID-19 transmission is “substantial” or “high.”
The memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks also requires those who are not fully vaccinated to practice social distancing.
The Pentagon directive follows Tuesday’s CDC recommendation of indoor mask mandates in jurisdictions with at least 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people over the previous seven days.
According to the CDC’s own data, approximately two-thirds of America’s counties are experiencing “substantial” or “high” levels of transmission. Nearly half of all US counties fall into the latter category, defined as at least 100 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days.
Coronavirus cases have increased across the US due to the highly contagious Delta variant, which is responsible for the vast majority of infections in the country.
The US Navy announced Wednesday that a reservist based in Idaho died Monday and a doctor assigned to the Naval Medical Center at Camp Lejeune, N.C., died last Friday. The deaths of 47-year-old Master-at-Arms First Class Allen Hillman and 48-year-old Capt. Corby Ropp bring the total number of sailors who perished from COVID-19 to 10 and are the first for the Navy since April 29.
According to the Pentagon, the number of US military deaths connected to the virus remains small — fewer than 30. There have been a total of almost 206,000 cases within the military as of July 21, the last date that numbers were available.
The Pentagon says that more than 1 million service members across the five branches of the military have been fully vaccinated. The Defense Health Agency reported last month that more than three quarters of active-duty Navy sailors (77 percent) had received at least one vaccine dose. The Army (70 percent) had the second-highest vaccination rate, followed by the Air Force (61 percent) and the Marine Corps (58 percent).
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week that at least 70 percent of all active-duty forces had received at least one vaccine dose.
“I remain very concerned about the most recent variant,” he warned. “It is highly transmissible. … We’re going to continue to push hard to ensure that we’re making the vaccine available to the force. And we’re going to encourage people, our troops, to take the vaccine.”
Military members and Defense Department employees are currently not required to take coronavirus vaccines, which have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on an emergency basis. However, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that state employees, including members of the National Guard, must get vaccinated by early August or undergo regular testing.