Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Legendre, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, receives the second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, Yokosuka, Japan, Feb. 2, 2021, while properly wearing a mask. (Photo by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Zenaida Roth)
White Sands Missile Range Commander Brig. Gen. David Trybula updated the mask policy at WSMR following a message from the office of the Secretary of Defense.
Trybula said WSMR is reassessing the current environment against the prevention and mitigation measures currently in place at WSMR.
"The environment has changed. The COVID-19 virus is mutating and some of the mutations are demonstrating higher transmit ability. Fortunately, the approved vaccines are demonstrating resistance to these mutations as well as the original virus they were designed to protect against," Trybula said.
He said this reinforces the recommendation to get vaccinated as early as possible. To facilitate this, he highly recommended that individuals register for the vaccine with any and all reputable organizations they are eligible for.
"We have been and will continue to vaccinate on WSMR in accordance with the DoD priorities based on our supply," Trybula said.
"Your personal priority in the state or community could be very different than DoD's priorities. Additionally, it is important to understand that while getting as many people vaccinated as possible is the overarching goal, the decision to get vaccinated is still a personal choice. Furthermore, this is a choice that you can change your mind about if you initially decline the opportunity to get vaccinated. We will continue to reach out to organizations and the community as we have updates regarding additional doses of vaccine and any adjustments to priorities," Trybula said.
"At the same time we must adjust our mask policy to a more aggressive stance," he said.
Effectively immediately masks will be worn inside all enclosed spaces on WSMR excluding your residence, including but not limited to buildings and vehicles, when there is not a floor to ceiling physical barrier (for example a closed door) separating a lone individual from anyone else regardless of the distance between individuals. Members of your immediate household (living at your residence) do not need to mask in the same vehicle as long as no one else is in the vehicle. As a reminder masks may not have vents and face shields are not a substitute for a mask. Additionally, outside masks are required if you are close enough to anyone outside of your immediate household that you can carry on a normal conversation.
"As we adjust to these new requirements for wearing masks we must proactively consider safety and how we need to modify procedures to safely comply, potentially stop doing things, and where mission requirements put safety in conflict with mask wearing these issues need to be raised ahead of time through leadership to me," Trybula said.
The office of the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum dated Feb. 4, 2021 addressing updated guidance changes to the mask policy.
"In accordance with Executive Order 13991, "Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing," January 20, 2021,and Office of Management and Budget Memorandum, "COVID-19 Safe Federal Workplace: Agency Model Safety Principles," January 24, 2021, this memorandum rescinds Secretary of Defense Memorandum, "Department of Defense Guidance on Cloth Face Coverings," April 5, 2020, and provides updated guidance on the use of face coverings and masks, social distancing, and full compliance with health guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)."
The memo reads as follows: Effective immediately, all individuals on military installations, as defined below, and all individuals performing official duties on behalf of the Department from any location other than the individual's home, including outdoor shared spaces, will wear masks in accordance with the most current CDC guidelines. Individuals must wear masks continuously while on military installations except: (1) when an individual is alone in an office with floor-to-ceiling walls with a closed door; (2) for brief periods of time when eating and drinking while maintaining distancing in accordance with CDC guidelines and instructions from commanders and supervisors; (3) when the mask is required to be lowered briefly for identification or security purposes; and (4) when necessary to reasonably accommodate an individual with a disability.
Individuals must consistently wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth and that comports with all current guidance from the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Locations where masks must be worn include any common areas or shared workspaces (including open floorplan office spaces, cubicle embankments, and conference rooms) and in outdoor shared spaces. Masks recommended by the CDC include non-medical disposable masks, masks made with breathable fabric (such as cotton), masks made with tightly woven fabric (i.e., fabrics that do not let light pass through when held up to a light source), masks with two or three layers, and masks with inner filter pockets. Novelty or non-protective masks, masks with ventilation valves, or face shields are not authorized as a substitute for masks. Masks must fit properly (i.e., snugly around the nose and chin with no large gaps around the sides of the face).
All individuals on military installations and all individuals performing official duties on behalf of the Department from any location other than the individual's home will follow CDC guidance and practice physical distancing, specifically by staying at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from other people who are not from an individual's household in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Social distancing should be practiced in combination with other everyday preventive actions to reduce the spread ofCOVID-19, including by wearing masks, avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands, and frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Categorical or case-by-case exceptions to these requirements for Service members and their families in environments other than office spaces that are necessary for military readiness, that are related to living on a military installation, or that are related to mask wearing by children (so long as such exceptions are consistent with CDC guidelines for mask wearing by children) may be granted in writing by DoD Component heads and should include appropriate alternative safeguards whenever feasible, such as additional physical distancing measures or additional testing consistent with DoD testing protocols. The authority to grant exceptions for all DoD Components located on the Pentagon Reservation is the Interim Director of Administration and Management. For all other situations outside of office settings when temporary unmasking is necessary for mission requirements, the authority to grant exceptions may be delegated in writing to officials at a level no lower than a general/flag officer in the grade of 0- 7, Senior Executive Service member (or equivalent), or, for installations that do not have official at these levels, 0-6 installation commanders.
For the purposes of this guidance, a military installation is a base, camp, post, station, yard, center, homeport facility for any ship, or other activity under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of a Military Department or the Secretary of Defense, including any leased facility, which is located within any State, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or Guam. In the case of an activity in a foreign country, a military installation is any area under the operational control of the Secretary of a Military Department or the Secretary of Defense, without regard to the duration of operational control.
DoD Components will comply with applicable labor relations obligations to the extent such obligations do not conflict with the agency's ability to conduct operations during this emergency.
COVID-19 is one of the deadliest threats our Nation has ever faced. As we have done throughout our history, the military will rise to this challenge. It is imperative that we do all we can to ensure the health and safety of our force, our families, and our communities so we can prevail in this fight.
Questions concerning this guidance may be directed to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.