DoD Drops Mask Requirement for Fully Vaccinated Troops, Staff

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Mask distribution Fort Benning, Georgia
A drill sergeant distributes masks to One Station Unit Training (OSUT) soldiers in their 11th week of training with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, at Fort Benning, Georgia. (Markeith Horace/Fort Benning Public Affairs Office)

The Defense Department on Thursday lifted its mandate requiring staff and service members to wear masks following new coronavirus guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Fully vaccinated DoD personnel (who are at least two weeks beyond their final dose) are no longer required to wear a mask indoors or outdoors at DoD facilities," Kathleen Hicks, the deputy secretary of defense, wrote in a memo. 

The move was announced after federal health officials lifted mask mandates for all fully vaccinated Americans. It follows a year of troops having to wear masks during both typical office work and physically demanding training events. 

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As of Friday, 614,330 service members and 258,476 DoD civilians, beneficiaries and family members have been fully vaccinated, according to Pentagon data.

Pentagon officials have said they will not require service members to get the vaccine as long as it is being administered under an emergency use authorization.

The DoD has had 291,757 cases of COVID-19 among its personnel, including 192,464 service members. Of those, 4,040 have been hospitalized; 26 service members have died. 

Biden set a goal of at least 70% of Americans receiving at least one vaccine dose and returning to relative normalcy by Independence Day. Thursday's announcement marks the most sweeping easing of pandemic restrictions in a year. However, some states and municipalities are maintaining stricter rules. 

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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