Pentagon photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ned T. Johnston

DOD pushes ahead with phased reopening

The Defense Department has moved to Phase 2 of its multiphase reopening plan for the Pentagon, Lisa Hershman, DOD's chief management officer, announced during a virtual town hall June 29. Face coverings are still mandatory when keeping a six-foot distance isn’t possible and teleworking will be encouraged at a minimum of 20%. Gatherings are also limited to fewer than 50 people.

Hershman said she wasn't sure how many DOD personnel will telework after DOD reaches the final reopening phase, but she said her office was "looking at all work options" and encouraging leaders to design plans based on their organization’s needs and consider telework capabilities. The CMO will also conduct a survey to learn about employees' telework experiences, including productivity and duty performance, to incorporate them in “modernizing our work approach.”

When it comes to travel, a June 29 memo from Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced DOD was moving to “conditions-based, phased approach” to domestic and overseas travel. In cancelling DOD’s April 20 travel restrictions, Esper laid out new conditions for travel covering both all official trips and personal leave outside the local area and non-official travel outside the local area.

Conditions to resume unrestricted travel depend on state and/or regional health criteria along with “installation-level criteria based on conditions in and surrounding DoD installations, facilities and locations,” he wrote.

Infections in the military bases are on the rise, according to Thomas McCaffery, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. Speaking at a July 1 briefing, he said that along with an uptick in civilian communities, military COVID-19 cases have risen in Florida, Texas, Arizona and some parts of California. 

"Our policy is tiered," said Lernes Hebert, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel. "So, the state has to first meet the 'gating criteria,' but once they meet it, then we devolve down to the installation assessments."

Texas, for example, met the requirement, but the state is large, and the outbreak is in different stages in different locations. "Installations do their assessments based on local travel restrictions, based on availability of health care and that sort of thing," Hebert said at the briefing. "They then provide that to their military department secretary, who makes the decision whether or not to lift the travel restrictions."

More testing has revealed more asymptomatic cases, and throughout the Military Health System, 57 patients are tied to COVID-19, McCaffery said.

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