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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks with service members at Osan Air Base, South Korea, March 19, 2021. Austin tested positive over the weekend for COVID-19, the Pentagon announced Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022.  
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks with service members at Osan Air Base, South Korea, March 19, 2021. Austin tested positive over the weekend for COVID-19, the Pentagon announced Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022.   (]Stars and Stripes)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tested positive over the weekend for COVID-19, the Pentagon announced Sunday evening.

Austin, in a statement attributed to him, said he was tested Sunday after exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus respiratory disease while at home on leave.

“My symptoms are mild, and I am following my physician’s directions,” Austin said.

“As my doctor made clear to me, my fully vaccinated status — and the booster I received in early October — have rendered the infection much more mild than it would otherwise have been. And I am grateful for that.”

Austin said he will abide by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and quarantine for five days at home.

“I have informed my leadership team of my positive test result, as well as the President,” he said. “My staff has begun contact tracing and testing of all those with whom I have come into contact over the last week.”

Austin said he last met with President Joe Biden on Dec. 21, “more than a week before I began to experience symptoms.” Austin tested negative for the virus that morning and has not been to the Pentagon since Thursday when he met briefly with a few staff members and stayed masked and socially distanced.

“Stemming the spread of this virus, safeguarding our workforce and ensuring my own speedy and safe recovery remain my priorities,” Austin said. “To the degree possible, I plan to attend virtually this coming week those key meetings and discussions required to inform my situational awareness and decision making. I will retain all authorities.

Austin is not the first Cabinet secretary in the Biden administration to contract the coronavirus. The first, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, tested positive Oct. 19.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Oct. 31 said she tested positive. Both said they suffered mild symptoms.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken cut short an Asia-Pacific diplomatic tour en route to Thailand after a journalist in his delegation tested positive Dec. 15.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks will step in for Austin where appropriate, Austin said. He closed his statement with a reminder to everyone in the DOD to get vaccinated or a booster shot.

“The vaccines work and will remain a military medical requirement for our workforce,” he said. “I continue to encourage everyone eligible for a booster shot to get one. This remains a readiness issue.”


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