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Navy relaxes pandemic restrictions on San Diego sailors

Sailors assigned to the USS Carl Vinson stand in line to receive the coronavirus vaccine, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, while the aircraft carrier is docked in San Diego.

CHRISTIAN HUNTINGTON/U.S. NAVY

By ANDREW DYER | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: May 5, 2021

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SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — For the first time since last spring, San Diego sailors will be allowed to visit public beaches, dine at reopened restaurants and patronize local bars, the Navy announced Tuesday, ending some of the strictest pandemic-related restrictions implemented last year.

Even as the civilian world eased dining restrictions last summer and again this spring, sailors in San Diego were not allowed to patronize reopened "non-essential" businesses, including retail stores, barber shops, and places of worship, according to Brian O'Rourke, a spokesman for Navy Region Southwest.

San Diego Navy bases have also eased restrictions imposed in March of 2020, which saw the shuttering of on-base dining and recreation facilities — something that disproportionately affected the most junior personnel, who often live on base.

"It's been difficult for sailors, especially those who live on base," O'Rourke said.

The change comes as a result of new rules issued Friday from the chief of naval operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, which allows bases to ease restrictions as coronavirus case rise or fall in their local communities.

On Tuesday, San Diego-area bases switched from health protection condition "Charlie" to "Bravo," which will allow base facilities, such as gyms, to expand their service hours and capacity. While base gyms have been open, O'Rourke said, they've had strict occupancy limits and service members were required to make appointments to exercise.

Additionally, the Navy now says that sailors who are immunized from COVID-19 will be allowed to continue on in a relaxed status even if cases in the community begin to tick upwards again.

In a statement, Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, the commander of Navy Region Southwest, encouraged sailors to get vaccinated.

"We haven't declared victory against COVID-19 yet, but we are making great strides," Bolivar said. "I urge Sailors and our civilian employees to get vaccinated and continue following CDC health guidelines. The more of us who do, the sooner we'll get through this."

Recent numbers released by the Navy last week show almost half of San Diego's active duty population are now fully vaccinated.

Navy work centers in San Diego remain under limited occupancy restrictions, O'Rourke said, although those have been eased as well. Occupancy rates jump from fewer than 25 percent to fewer than 50 percent with the latest change, although that does not apply to certain facilities such as military hospitals, repair facilities, operational units and those providing essential support, according to the Navy.

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