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Masks required on bases again

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The Pentagon on Wednesday announced it would once again require all individuals to wear face coverings when indoors at Defense Department facilities in locations deemed high risk by federal health officials for the spread of coronavirus.


The directive issued Wednesday by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks walks back guidance issued in April that allowed service members and others who had been fully vaccinated against the virus to forgo mask-wearing at all Defense Department facilities worldwide. It comes one day after the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance encouraging vaccinated Americans to don masks indoors in certain locations where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly.

“Deputy Secretary Hicks has directed that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor settings at Department of Defense installations and facilities in areas of substantial or high transmission, as defined by the CDC, to protect against rising [coronavirus] cases,” said Jamal Brown, a Pentagon spokesman. “Today’s announcement applies to all service members, federal personnel, contractors, and visitors when indoors at all properties owned by the department in those areas, in accordance with updated CDC guidelines.”

The CDC has defined those areas of the country, broken down by individual county, as displaying substantial coronavirus transmission rates if more than 50 cases per 100,000 persons were reported in the previous seven days. Those reporting more than 100 cases per 100,000 persons are deemed to have high transmission rates. On Wednesday, the CDC reported 1,608 of 3,219 U.S. counties fell into the high transmission rate category. Another 537 were listed within the substantial transmission rate category.

In Pierce County, Covid rates are 117 cases per 100,000 over two weeks, so it was not immediately clear if the base will fall under the new rules.

A CDC map of county statuses showed high or substantial transmission across most of the U.S. southeast, where vaccination rates trail other parts of the country. But at least some counties reporting significant or high rates of infection appeared to be present in all 50 states. Updated information on local transmission rates and other coronavirus-related data is available at

In the Defense Department memorandum announcing the changes on Wednesday, Hicks said military installations and other DOD facilities should post signs at their locations and information on their websites outlining current guidance, including whether fully vaccinated individuals must wear masks indoors in that location “as soon as possible.”

Defense Department personnel who do not comply with current orders regarding face masks could be punished, defense officials have said.

Hicks directed service members and DOD civilian employees to “continue to comply with CDC guidance regarding areas where masks should be worn, including within airports.”

The change comes as federal health officials expressed increasing concerns about the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus spreading throughout the country and increasing hospitalization rates in many areas of the United States.

While CDC officials and President Joe Biden have said in recent days that the vast majority of cases have spread among those not vaccinated against the coronavirus, officials have warned they have seen more so-called breakthrough cases of the virus infecting fully vaccinated individuals.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said breakthrough infections remain rare and the “vaccines work just as we thought they would.” However, where health officials once thought vaccinated individuals were unlikely to spread the disease, new data shows they can spread the new variant to others, she said.

“With the delta variant, we can now see in outbreak investigations in these recent weeks … that you can actually now pass it to someone else,” Walensky said Wednesday on CNN. "For every 20 [fully vaccinated] people, one or two of them could get a breakthrough, they may only get mild disease, but we wanted them to know they could bring that mild disease home, they could bring it to others.”

The DOD change on mask requirements also comes as Biden mulls making vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory for employees of the federal government, potentially including military troops.

Biden is expected to announce on Thursday that all federal employees and government contractors be fully vaccinated or take regular tests for the coronavirus, according to reports by multiple news outlets, including The Washington Post and CNN.

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday announced it would require its medical workers to receive coronavirus vaccines. The department, the first federal agency to mandate vaccination for any of its personnel, gave employees until Sept. 20 to be fully vaccinated.

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