DOD Eases Mask Rules to Follow New CDC Guidance

The Defense Department no longer requires masks at DOD facilities for fully vaccinated personnel. The guidance applies to everyone who is at least two weeks past receiving their final dose, and covers both indoor and outdoor activities, according to a May 13 memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks.

The memo was released the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for limiting COVID-19 transmission. The new CDC guidance says fully vaccinated people can resume pre-pandemic activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

The CDC recommended masks continue to be worn on public transportation, airplanes, and at hospitals and medical facilities.

“All DOD personnel should continue to comply with CDC guidance regarding areas where masks should be worn, including within airports,” Hicks wrote. “Personnel who are not fully vaccinated should continue to follow applicable DOD mask guidance, including continuing to wear masks indoors.”

Commanders and supervisors can still make exceptions to “ensure a safe workforce,” Hicks wrote, but “commanders and supervisors should not ask about an employee’s vaccination status or use information about an employee’s vaccination status to make decisions about how and when employees will report to a workplace instead of teleworking.”

President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Jan. 20 requiring all federal workers to wear a mask when around others, to social distance, and to follow CDC guidelines. Speaking from the White House on May 13, he called the CDC’s new guidance “a great milestone, a great day,” and strongly urged all Americans to be vaccinated. “It’s going to take a little more time for everyone who wants to get vaccinated to get their shots,” Biden said. “So all of us, let’s be patient with one another.”

Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director of the Defense Health Agency, told reporters in late March he expected every military member who wants to receive a vaccine to be able to get one by mid-summer.

“Based on projections that we have, both supply side and vaccination side, we do fully expect to be open to all … of our DOD eligible populations on or before the first of May,” Place said in a March 31 briefing. “At current uptake rates for those who want to get it, we think by the middle of July or so … the department will be vaccinated.”