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Masks no longer required for fully vaccinated personnel at Defense Department facilities

Time to hang them up? Military officials announced Thursday, May 13, 2021, that personnel fully vaccinated against the coronavirus are no longer required to wear masks indoors or outdoors at Defense Department facilities.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 14, 2021

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WASHINGTON – Personnel fully vaccinated against the coronavirus are no longer required to wear masks indoors or outdoors at Defense Department facilities, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks announced late Thursday.

Face masks have been mandatory for everyone since April 5, 2020, on all Defense Department property, installations and facilities when social distancing was not possible, which was in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at the time.

The decision to reverse that guidance for some was made following new guidelines issued Thursday afternoon by the CDC that said those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks or physically distance in any setting, according to the Hicks memo to the department.

The change applies to individuals who are at least two weeks beyond their final vaccine dose. Those who are unvaccinated “should continue to follow applicable DOD mask guidance, including continuing to wear masks indoors,” Hicks wrote in the memo.

“All DoD personnel should continue to comply with CDC guidance regarding areas where masks should be worn, including in airports,” according to the memo.

At the Pentagon on Friday morning, service members and civilian employees began removing their masks in public for the first time in more than a year.

However, commanders and supervisors can make exceptions to the directive “as necessary to ensure a safe workplace,” Hicks wrote. More so, they must still respect employees’ medical privacy when implementing changes.

“Commanders and supervisors should not ask about an employee’s vaccination status or use information about an employee’s vaccination status to make decisions about how and when employees will report to a workplace instead of teleworking,” Hicks also wrote in the memo.

About 614,330 active-duty, Reserve and National Guard service members and 258,476 DOD civilian employees were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to the latest data from the Pentagon. Another 257,666 service members and 90,575 civilian personnel were partially vaccinated as of the same date.

The Pentagon has not issued any requirements or incentives for Defense Department personnel to receive the vaccine. The shot remains optional for DOD personnel as the department continues to be under emergency-use authorization by the Federal Drug Administration.

“We still believe that the right focus is to provide the best information available and this will help our troops to make informed decisions,” Austin told reporters at the Pentagon on May 6. “I think armed with the right information, accurate information, troops will make good choices.”

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos