Military commanders may begin lowering health protection conditions and returning to more regular operations if their location meets certain criteria, like a two-week downturn in the number of coronavirus cases, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in May 20 guidance to the armed forces.
Most U.S. military installations across the globe have been at health protection condition “Charlie,” the second-highest level, as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads. Under the guidance, commanders can lower this level to “Bravo” if their communities meet the following criteria:
- A downward trajectory of reported flu-like and COVID-19-like illnesses within the past 14 days;
- A downward trajectory of documented COVID-19 cases or positive tests over the past 14 days;
- Military medical facilities or local hospitals have the capacity to treat patients and have an adequate testing program in place for both at-risk medical workers and those with symptoms of COVID-19.
Additionally, commanders need to ensure that their installations have “comprehensive health surveillance processes” in place to monitor illnesses and provide surveillance laboratory testing, according to a Pentagon statement.
“This guidance sets the considerations and processes for commanders who are seeking to adjust their local HPCON levels in a manner that will continue to protect our personnel from further spread of COVID-19 and preserve the operational readiness of our global force,” the Pentagon said.
The guidance comes as states across the country have started to reopen businesses and lift stay-at-home orders amid the pandemic. Changes are happening abroad as well. U.S. Forces-Korea lowered its HPCON for all installations except those in the Seoul metropolitan area, effective May 20, citing the reduction in COVID-19 cases across most of South Korea.