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Seaman Thomas King dons a surgical mask during patient transport drills aboard hospital ship USNS Comfort in New York, March 31, 2020, as the ship prepares to admit patients in support of coronavirus response efforts. The Navy said that until official uniform ''face coverings'' can be produced, sailors can wear masks that comply with Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Seaman Thomas King dons a surgical mask during patient transport drills aboard hospital ship USNS Comfort in New York, March 31, 2020, as the ship prepares to admit patients in support of coronavirus response efforts. The Navy said that until official uniform ''face coverings'' can be produced, sailors can wear masks that comply with Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. (Sara Eshleman/U.S. Navy)

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The Navy plans to issue its own official uniform face coverings, but directed sailors in the meantime to wear “conservative” masks when social distancing isn’t possible, in line with a new Pentagon policy.

In a Defense Department-wide order requiring service members, families and all others on military facilities to wear face coverings in public or work spaces where six feet of distance cannot be maintained, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said medical respirators and surgical masks would not be issued for that purpose. It left service-specific details up to each branch of the military to decide, but recommended making masks from common household materials such as clean T-shirts.

Under the Navy guidance issued Monday, uniformed sailors may don “any face covering that is conservative in appearance, not offensive” and conforms to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The face coverings, secured with ties or ear loops, must fit snugly against the face, cover nose to chin and allow for breathing without restriction, the Navy memo stated, citing the CDC. Medical or construction masks are acceptable, but so are bandanas or scarves, provided those made of cloth materials have several layers of fabric, it stated.

“Once available sailors will be able to procure and wear official Navy uniform face coverings,” states the memo, signed by the Navy’s chief of operations, plans and strategy Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer.

karsten.joshua@stripes.com Twitter: @joshua_karsten


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