Any troops who have tested positive, or come in close contact with someone positive, for COVID-19 will now self-quarantine for at least five days, according to guidance released Friday.
The guidance, which also applies to Defense Department civilians and contractors, will apply to both asymptomatic and symptomatic cases, in line with recent guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Much of the guidance hinges on the honor system: Personnel have to report their symptoms and/or exposures, submit to testing and then keep their masks on for several days after they return to work.
The five-day quarantine is a bare minimum, according to the memo from the defense under secretary for personnel and readiness.
Here’s how it should go: Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 ― including cough, congestion and shortness of breath ― must immediately report them to a commander, then begin a five-day quarantine.
“Personnel who develop any signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19 during the workday must immediately distance from other workers, wear a face mask if they are not already wearing one, notify their commander or supervisor, and promptly leave the workplace,” the memo reads.
After five days, personnel may return to the office if they are asymptomatic, or their symptoms are clearing up; if they’ve had a fever, they must have gone 48 hours fever-free. Once back at work, they must wear a mask for five more days, even if they are in a command that isn’t currently mandating masks.
For personnel who’ve had close contact with someone who later tested positive, there are two options: Those who are fully vaccinated, including a booster if they are eligible, but remain asymptomatic, don’t have to quarantine. However, they must wear a mask at work for 10 days; if unvaccinated, or if they are eligible for a booster but haven’t received it, personnel must stay home for five days. They can return if they are asymptomatic after five days, but must still wear a mask for another five days.
Close contact is defined as spending at least 15 minutes, over a 24-hour period, within six feet of someone with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, regardless of whether either party was wearing a mask, up to two days before they either developed symptoms or tested positive.
Previous guidance urges testing three to five days after exposure, regardless of whether symptoms develop or not.
There is also an exemption process for unvaccinated, mission-essential personnel who aren’t showing any symptoms.
They must test negative following the exposure, then re-test at day five; be screened daily for symptoms, including fever; must wear a mask for 10 days after exposure; maintain as much distance from others as possible in workspaces; and disinfect workspaces daily, in addition to not sharing headsets or other gear for the head or face.
Exemptions can be granted by the immediate flag and general officer, or civilian equivalent. If none are assigned to the command, an O-6 installation commander can approve.
“Vaccination status of the individual should be considered in granting an exception, as more risk will be assumed in granting an exception for an unvaccinated individual,” according to the guidance. “If the individual develops signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19 during the duty period, he/she will be sent home immediately.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.