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U.S. military leaders wear masks during a Veterans Day event in Adelup, Guam, Nov. 11, 2021.
U.S. military leaders wear masks during a Veterans Day event in Adelup, Guam, Nov. 11, 2021. (Richard Ebensberger/U.S. Air Force)

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Masks are required once again for military personnel on Guam as new cases of the coronavirus respiratory disease continue to surge on the U.S. island territory.

Face coverings must now be worn in any “congregate settings,” indoors and out, when social distancing is not possible, according to a statement Thursday from region commander Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson. Masks are not required during physical training.

“After two months of a downward trend we are now experiencing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, and we want to make sure we get ahead of the spread and slow it back down to protect our families and our island,” Nicholson wrote.

The policy does not apply to Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam because each installation has its own commander with the "authority and responsibility" to manage their own unique public health emergencies in accordance with DOD guidance, Joint Region Marianas spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Katie Koenig told Stars and Stripes by email Friday.

However, Naval Base Guam spokeswoman Theresa Cepeda, in an email to Stars and Stripes on Thursday, said the base had also reimplemented its mask mandate. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeremy Sloane ordered the 36th Wing to follow suit on Friday.

The U.S. military in Japan on Thursday reinforced an existing mask mandate for all personnel heading off base and those quarantining on base prior to a negative COVID-19 test, U.S. Forces Japan said in a statement.

The mission of Joint Region Marianas is to provide installation management to all DOD organizations and tenants on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands and to support training in the region, according to the command's website. Each unit in the region complies with local guidelines where they are operating, whether that is on Guam or Saipan, for example, Koenig said.

On Friday, there were 272 active COVID-19 cases among service members and Defense Department employees on Guam, up 129 since Wednesday, Koenig said.

Off base, there were another 243 positive cases, 12 hospitalizations and one death on Friday, according to Guam’s Joint Information Center. The island had 1,227 active cases on Friday.

Neither the military nor Guam’s civilian administration have the equipment to test for the highly transmissible omicron variant, Koenig and spokeswoman for Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, Krystal Paco-San Agustin, told Stars and Stripes this week.

U.S. Naval Hospital Guam sent 10 samples to the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego last month for genome sequencing, Koenig said. Testing can take up to two months depending on the backlog and prioritization in the lab.

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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