Pentagon releases new rules for easing stay-at-home policies on bases

Pentagon releases new rules for easing stay-at-home policies on bases
© Greg Nash

The Pentagon has issued new guidance for local commanders in states where stay-at-home orders are beginning to relax, according to a memo released Wednesday.

Since late March, all military installations globally have been in partial lockdown after Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Biden nets military family endorsements | Final debate features North Korea exchange | Judge refuses to dismiss sexual assault case against top general Israel signals it won't oppose F-35 sale to UAE Our troops in the Sinai are a small force with outsized importance MORE raised the Defense Department’s (DOD) global health protection level to its second-highest setting. The freeze — which prohibited nonessential travel for DOD personnel and families and limited access to bases — was intended to stem increasing coronavirus cases among service members.

A May 19 memo now lays out a guideline for local commanders to relax certain restrictions as COVID-19 cases decline in their areas.


“Commanders, in consultation with their medical leadership, shall exercise their authority by making deliberate, risk-based decisions to change [health protection] levels as conditions allow,” according to the memo signed by Esper.

Installations must still follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force guidance and regulations.

Commanders also must collaborate with state, territorial and local authorities, the command public health emergency officer and local military medical treatment facilities.

The leaders are also allowed to set health protection levels that may be more stringent than the surrounding community requirements “based on mission and other risk considerations.” If they want to make them less strict, however, such a decision must be reviewed by the next higher commander in the chain.

Local commanders can only move to relax health protection levels after several key benchmarks, including a two-week downturn in locally reported coronavirus-like or flu-like illnesses, two weeks of decreases local coronavirus cases, and proof that on-base or local civilian hospitals can handle coronavirus patients and needed testing.

As of Wednesday morning, 5,820 service members had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 129 hospitalizations, two deaths and 2,940 recovered.


In addition, 1,381 civilian employees have tested positive with 15 deaths, 1,026 dependents tested positive with four deaths and 537 contractors tested positive with eight deaths.

Pentagon officials have acknowledged that the coronavirus will be a hurdle for military readiness at least until a vaccine is developed, an undertaking that could take 12 to 18 months at the soonest.

Esper earlier this month said that the Pentagon is “preparing for a second wave and maybe more” of the illness.