DOD temperature check (Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Marquis Whitehead)

DOD issues guidance on resuming routine activities

Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued five-step guidance May 19 to local commanders who want to reduce health protection condition (HPCON) levels at their installations and resume normal and routine activities.

Prior to stepping down HPCON levels, commanders must ensure that reported and documented cases of COVID-like illnesses have been declining over the preceding 14 days and that an adequate diagnostic testing program is in place for at-risk health care workers and those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Additionally, medical facilities must have the capacity to treat all patients.

Decisions to decrease HPCON levels “must be informed by local conditions based on public health surveillance data; 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 facility,” Esper wrote.

Installations are not required to follow policies set by the local community. “Commanders may set HPCON levels that are more stringent than surrounding community requirements based on mission and other risk considerations,” Esper said. Decisions to relax rules beyond what the local community recommends “must first be reviewed by the next higher commander in the chain of command,” he wrote.

Installation commanders must also have plans and capabilities for testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine of those arriving on base from high-exposure locations or who have been exposed to COVID-19-positive individuals.

If infections increase, or the installations’ medical facilities become overburdened, commanders may increase HPCON levels.

Meanwhile, the department will continue to rely on telework, Pentagon officials said.

"As we step through a phased approach on reopening, ... we're going to continue to maximize the teleworking,” Matthew Donovan, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said during a May 21 briefing at the Pentagon. “We've made a lot of progress with making sure that the network capacities are available and people have access to the materials and documents that they need from a teleworking location."

“I continue to be extremely proud of all our Service members, DoD civilian employees, contractor personnel, and their families for their superb contributions” to the pandemic response, Esper said. “Specifically, I thank our leaders and health care personnel who have done an outstanding job in keeping all of our installations safe.”

Read the full memo here.

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