Pentagon: All Personnel Must Now Wear ‘Cloth Face Coverings’ Where Social Distancing Difficult

By Patrick Goodenough | April 5, 2020 | 6:33pm EDT
Defense Secretary Mark Esper  (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Defense Secretary Mark Esper (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

( – With immediate effect, U.S. military personnel were instructed Sunday to wear “cloth face coverings” in public or work areas, where they are unable to maintain a six-feet distance from others.

Designed to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, the directive issued by Defense Secretary Mark Esper makes clear service personnel will not be issued with surgical or N95 respirator masks, “as these will be reserved for the appropriate personnel.”

Instead, pending guidance on wear from individual military departments, they are encouraged to fashion homemade coverings for the mouth and nose, for instance by using clean T-shirts.

The directive, in line with CDC recommendations, applies to personnel in uniform, civilian Department of Defense employees and contractors, and family members.

It applies to all individuals on DoD property and installations, at times “when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers.” Personal residences on military bases are exempt.

“Exceptions to this requirement may be approved by local commanders or supervisors, and then submitted up the chain of command for situational awareness,” the directive says. “Security checkpoints may require the lowering of face covers to verify identification.”

Esper told ABC’s “This Week” earlier Sunday that the guidance was on its way.

He also said that while the DoD will “take every measure to protect our troops” a second priority was to ensure that “we can conduct our national security missions.”

“And to do that, we can’t always do six-feet distancing, whether you’re in an attack submarine, a bomber, in a tank,” Esper explained.

“So we have to take other measures. And I trust the commanders and our senior NCOs to do that. But we want to provide them all the guidance they need to adjust it in whatever is unique to their situation, their circumstance or their mission set.”

The CDC announced on Friday it was now recommending the wearing of cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as when visiting a supermarket or pharmacy – and “especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

“CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others,” it said.

The recommendation marked a shift from its earlier position that healthy people did not need to wear masks, unless taking care of sick patients.

The CDC attributed the change to recent studies indicating that many individuals infected with the coronavirus do not have symptoms, and can transmit the virus to others before symptoms may appear.

“This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity – for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing – even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.”

The CDC is stressing that the wearing of face coverings is not an alternative to maintaining social distancing guidelines, but should be done as an additional measure.

Meanwhile the DoD is continuing to provide masks and other medical supplies to civilian hospitals, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters on Friday.

“Five million N95 masks have been delivered to the Department of Health and Human Services in support of state and locals,” he said. “Close to two million have already been distributed. Another three million are in distribution points in New York.”

Hoffman said Esper has now approved the provision to HHS of another five million masks from the DoD strategic stockpile.

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