Pentagon gives local commanders roadmap for easing on-base coronavirus restrictions

The Defense Department is setting guidelines for local commanders who want to ease coronavirus-related restrictions on bases as parts of the civilian world start to unshutter.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper gave local commanders the guidance on lowering their health protection status in a Tuesday memo. The decisions will be based on risk and health data. Health protection statuses dictate the measures bases are taking against biological agents.

For example, since March the Pentagon has been under HPCON Charlie, which enforces social distancing, closes some entrances, and increases teleworking.

Commanders who want to lower their HPCON status must meet certain requirements set out by the guidance.

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“These decisions must be informed by local conditions based on public health surveillance; guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; collaboration with state, territorial and local authorities and advice from the command public health emergency officer and local military medical treatment facilities,” Esper stated in the memo.

Commanders may continue to set HPCON levels that are more stringent than the surrounding community. If they want to lessen the restrictions, the decision must be reviewed by the next higher commander in the chain of command.

Commanders must ensure that there is a downward trajectory of reported cases of flu-like and COVID-like illnesses for at least 14 days. The same goes for patients who test positive for COVID-19. Commanders must also show that medical treatment facilities or local hospitals have the capacity to treat all patients without situational standards of care. The medical facilities must also have an adequate diagnostic COVID-19 testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers and those exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus.

DoD as a whole is still implementing higher measures of caution. The military stop move order, keeping most troops from moving to their next orders, is still in effect until June 30. The Pentagon is reviewing that policy every two weeks.

As of Wednesday, there have been nearly 9,000 confirmed DoD-related COVID-19 cases. Almost 6,000 of those are military, about 1,400 are civilian, 1,000 are military dependents and about 500 are contractors.

About half of the DoD-related people infected with the disease have recovered and 29 have died.

DoD has seen an increase in recoveries over the number of infections recently.