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Pentagon to impose new coronavirus restrictions

Pentagon to impose new coronavirus restrictions
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The Pentagon next week will place new restrictions on the thousands of personnel that work in the building following a new positive case among its top officials, the Defense Department announced on Friday.

The building will move to a higher health protection level next Thursday, Nov. 26, cutting maximum occupancy to 40 percent and increasing the number of temperature checks on workers entering the building by as much as 15 percent.

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller decided to raise the Pentagon’s health protection level from “Bravo” to “Bravo Plus” based on a steady increase in COVID-19 cases at the Pentagon since the end of August 2020, “as well as an increase in cases in the National Capital Region since the middle of September,” according to a DOD statement.

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 Chief Management Officer Lisa Hershman told Politico earlier on Friday that the decision to up the health protection level was made earlier in the week and was not in response to the Thursday announcement that retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, the temporary Pentagon policy chief, tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Pentagon late Thursday revealed that Tata along with acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller and three service secretaries on Nov. 13 met with Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis, who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Tata has since begun a two-week quarantine and the Pentagon is “continuing to conduct further contact tracing of DOD personnel who have had close contact with the Lithuanian delegation or Mr. Tata,” top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.

Miller and the service secretaries are not quarantining “based on testing and mitigation measures that were in place during the Lithuanian delegation’s visit and CDC guidelines.”

“We will report additional positive cases as appropriate,” Hoffman added.

The new restrictions will shore up procedures the Pentagon has already put in place since this spring. The building has been below 50 percent occupancy for months — with meetings now regularly conducted by phone or virtually — and all visitors already receive temperature checks.

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The new restrictions also encourage leaders to have their employees frequently telework, limits the number of people in the Pentagon’s athletic center, discontinues seating in the food court, and limits gatherings from fewer than 50 people to fewer than 25.

“We believe these measures and continued dialogue with Pentagon leadership ... will help us continue to mitigate the COVID-19 spread,” according to the statement.

Tata’s positive test is the second time COVID-19 has shown up among the Pentagon’s top officials.

Six of the seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in addition to two four-star officers quarantined at home in October after attending a meeting with Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray, who tested positive for the coronavirus. The Marine Corps's No. 2 officer, Gen. Gary Thomas, also later tested positive.

Ray had attended a Gold Star family event in late September at the White House — where the virus quickly thereafter afflicted President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE and numerous top aides — before meeting with the Joint Chiefs in early October.

A dashboard operated by the DOD indicates that more than 73,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed among members of the military, while tens of thousands more have been recorded among DOD family members, contractors and civilian personnel.

And earlier this week a 52-year-old Hawaii National Guardsman died from COVID-19, marking the military’s 11th death from the virus.

Updated: 8 p.m.