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Esper orders all military, DOD and families to wear face masks if within 6 feet of each other

Specialist Robert Levy of Vancouver, an automated logistical specialist, Alpha Company, 181st Brigade Support Battalion and personal finance specialist grabs cans of food for packaging at the Nourish Food Bank in Lakewood, Wash. on April 3, 2020. (U.S. National Guard photo by Joseph Siemandel)
April 06, 2020

Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered all Department of Defense personnel and family members to begin wearing face masks following new recommendations from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Esper issued new guidance on the wearing of face masks on Sunday, recommending DoD personnel wear masks whenever they are working in conditions where maintaining at least six feet of distance from other individuals is difficult.

“Effective immediately, to the extent practical, all individuals on DoD property, installations, and facilities will wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers.” Esper’s guidance through the DoD read. Esper noted the rules do not extend to the personal residences of service members and their families on military installations.

Esper did indicate the guidance should extend to military personnel, DoD civilian employees, DoD contractors, 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,” Esper wrote. “Security checkpoints may require the lowering of face covers to verify identification.”

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Esper said the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness would provide an updated force health protection guidance regarding the mask rules. Individual military departments will issue guidance on wear for their service members. In the interim, Esper called on personnel to use their own facemasks, permitting them to fashion makeshift coverings for the nose and mouth areas out of clean clothes or other household items and common materials.

The new guidelines further indicated medical-grade masks, such as the N95 respirator masks or other surgical masks, would not be issued to most involved DoD personnel “as these will be reserved for the appropriate personnel.”

While Esper extended the advice across military bases and defense facilities, he also advised military personnel, DoD civilian employees, their family members, and DoD contractors should continue to wear masks or other face coverings in public settings or in places where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

President Donald Trump announced the new CDC guidance on wearing masks during a Friday White House press briefing to discuss the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Trump described the guidance as a “voluntary public health measure.”

Trump noted the face masks recommendations are not meant to replace the existing social distancing guidelines, which commonly call on people to maintain at least six feet of distance from one another, avoid large social gatherings and to stay home when possible.