WASHINGTON – The Defense Department on Saturday described far-reaching domestic travel restrictions for service members and their families, along with new steps to limit access to the Pentagon, in the latest attempt to blunt the impact of coronavirus on the military.
The ban on domestic travel, which is due to go into effect Monday and last until at least May 11, could affect hundreds of thousands of service members, civilian employees and their dependents in the United States and its territories.
In guidance released late Friday, the department said that its new domestic travel restriction would apply to transfers known as permanent changes of station and temporary training assignments.
Defense Department units also will bring on new people only if they already live within the local commuting area, and service members are authorized to take leave only within local areas. Approvals for such waivers must be granted by one of a handful of senior defense officials, including the four-star officers in charge of regional geographic combatant commands, service secretaries or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley.
In a call with reporters Saturday, defense officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the new restrictions, said commanders would have discretion to grant exemptions to the blanket travel rules.
“The best advice for individuals who are not where they need to be is simply call their supervisors,” an official said.
The officials also said that the Pentagon on Saturday had raised its health protection level to “Bravo.” The department has now restricted access for many visitors who do not hold a Pentagon badge, canceled gatherings including promotion and retirement ceremonies, and barred most international visitors.
The department is also asking employees to telework when possible.
Employees who require access to classified systems will come to work, the officials said. DOD personnel who have visited countries with significant outbreaks will be ask to self-isolate for 14 days before returning to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon has also shut some athletic centers and imposed new restrictions on military retirement homes, where people are expected to be more vulnerable to the virus.
Officials said that 10 service members have tested positive for the virus, one of whom has been hospitalized, along with one Defense Department civilian and two contractors. Eight Defense Department dependents have also tested positive.
Officials said that 13 military labs are now able to conduct tests for the virus, including a site at the Pentagon.