DOD to Loosen Movement Restrictions Despite Recent COVID-19 Deaths

The Pentagon announced May 26 it will start rolling back restrictions on movement, even though a third U.S. service member and two people affiliated with the Air Force recently died from COVID-19.

A Wisconsin Army Reservist died from the disease caused by the new coronavirus over the Memorial Day weekend, according to the Pentagon’s daily tally of COVID-19 cases. Additionally, an Air Force civilian and a USAF contractor also died of the disease in recent days, bringing the Air Force total to four—none of whom were uniformed Airmen.

The cases come as the Defense Department is loosening restrictions on movement, which have been on hold since a stop movement order was issued in mid-March. In a May 22 memo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper wrote that while COVID-19 remains a risk, “improving conditions warrant a transition in our approach to domestic and overseas personnel travel to a conditions-based, phased approach to personnel movement and travel.”

The Pentagon will evaluate each locality that houses more than 1,000 personnel on three criteria:

  • Removal of shelter-in-place orders
  • A 14-day downward trajectory of COVID-19-like symptoms
  • A 14-day downward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases.

If a location meets these three criteria, movement to and from the areas will resume.

Additionally, service Secretaries, the combatant commands, and the military’s chief management officer will continue to assess each Defense Department installation to determine whether it’s possible to lift restrictions. Installations need to report every week on the status of local travel restrictions, the availability of essential services, the quality control and assurance capability for household goods movement, and favorable health protection conditions. If these criteria are approved, the installation will be considered for movement.

Installations that are within a 50-mile commuting distance will need to coordinate their plans, according to the memo.

Personnel who need to travel to locations that don’t meet the listed criteria can still apply for waivers, based on mission or hardship.

On May 26, Chief Management Officer Lisa Hershman issued a separate memorandum outlining steps to reopen the Pentagon, which has seen about two-thirds of its workforce shift to working remotely. There will be five phases to reopening the building, starting at the current “Phase Zero” that has very few essential workers coming in and, based on continual 14-day periods of fewer cases reported, additional workers coming in to the building.