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Esper directs individuals on Defense property to wear 'cloth face coverings' when they can't practice social distancing

Posted April 5, 2020 11:48 a.m. EDT
Updated April 5, 2020 3:02 p.m. EDT

Esper directs individuals on Defense property to wear 'cloth face coverings' when they can't practice social distancing

— Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that all individuals operating on department property worldwide should "wear cloth face coverings" when they can't practice proper social distancing in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

In a memo sent to Defense Department staff and obtained by CNN, Esper said individuals should wear cloth face coverings "when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers," effective immediately. The memo said the directive would not apply to a service member's personal residence on a military installation.

The directive applies to all military personnel, department contractors, civilian employees at the department, family members and "all other individuals on DoD property, installations, and facilities."

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

CNN reported earlier Sunday that some Pentagon employees had received emails from their office administrators over the weekend directing them to come to work Monday with at least one face covering to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to an official who received one of the messages.

President Donald Trump said Friday his administration was recommending Americans wear "non-medical cloth" face coverings, a reversal of previous guidance that suggested masks were unnecessary for people who weren't sick. The President noted the recommendations were voluntary and that he would not partake.

Esper said in an interview with ABC earlier Sunday that the military wants "to take every measure to protect our troops," but that following national guidance on social distancing isn't possible for troops in some places, like submarines or tanks.

"But we ought to provide them all the guidance they need to adjust it in whatever is unique to their situation, their circumstance or their mission set," he said.

The Pentagon has made a number of adjustments amid the pandemic, including adopting "dramatic mitigation measures to protect service members, civilian employees, contractors and their families from Coronavirus."

Last week, the military announced the death of the first US service member from the novel coronavirus, and the total number of cases involving the Department of Defense surpassed 1,000 that day.

Among the cases facing the military are more than 100 sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt that have tested positive for the virus as of Saturday, according to the Navy.

Concerns about the pandemic's spread drove the US Marine Corps to temporarily suspend basic training for 50% of its new enlisted recruits on Monday, and the Pentagon is increasingly preparing for the possibility of wider outbreaks across the force than originally anticipated.

CNN reported earlier this month that the US Army is suspending "non-mission essential functions," including some non-critical training of units in the field and physical fitness training involving large numbers of troops, according to an internal Army directive that was obtained by CNN.

This story has been updated to include Defense Secretary Mark Esper's guidance issued to Defense employees.

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