Pentagon leadership issued unprecedented travel restrictions to servicemembers, their dependents and military civilians and in an attempt to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus across the services.
The “stop movement” order from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper goes into effect on Monday and freezes almost all government-funded movement to the local commuting area of a service member’s command until May 11.
“This restriction will halt all domestic travel, including permanent change of station, and temporary duty,” read a statement a Pentagon statement. “This restriction will also pause civilian hiring at DoD installations and components for persons who do not reside within the hiring entity’s local commuting area.”
Leave for military members outside the local commuting area must be approved. Dependents can travel outside of the local area, but not using government funds.
Commands throughout the military are encouraging telework when possible and reducing manning at commands to essential personnel.
The travel restriction is in addition to the standing ban of government-funded travel moving to, from or through areas with a CDC level 3 health travel notice.
Approval must be sought for hardship, mission essential and humanitarian travel while domestic travel for medical treatment is excluded from the ban.
Travel outside the local area must be approved by the first flag officer or senior executive service member in the sailor or Navy civilian’s chain of command, according to a supplementary NAVADMIN message issued following the wider Pentagon announcement.
There are also additional self-quarantine measures in place for those who have returned from Level 2 or 3 CDC health travel advisory countries, including the Schengen Area inside the European Union.
“For those who recently traveled to, though, or from a CDC Travel Health Advisory Level 2 or Level 3 country, we are directing that they stay at home at 14 days, practice social distancing, and self-monitor for potential symptoms of COVID-19 including taking their temperature twice a day,” read a supplementary Pentagon FAQ on the new policies. “For all other returning travelers, including those traveling within the United States, we are telling them to practice social distancing and be mindful in their daily self-observation for any signs or symptoms of COVID-19. For all, we are telling them that if they feel sick, they should immediately self-isolate, notify their leadership, and call the appropriate medical authorities for assistance.”
In a Saturday message, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith said in a message to the fleet, “don’t’ be a hero.”
“Our number one concern is the health and the safety of you, our sailors – active and reserve, uniformed and civilian – as well as your families. We’re suspending official, personal, and PCS travel for the next 60 days both IN-CONUS and to designated locations OCONUS, as well as encouraging flexible work schedules and the use of telework — all designed to slow the virus’ spread,” read the message.
“For now, we must use an abundance of caution. Keep an eye on your sailors and continue to follow the guidelines of health officials – which includes washing your hands more often, avoiding public gatherings, and staying away from others if you’re sick. Don’t be a hero.”
The restrictions come as the COVID-19 virus has infected 10 active-duty service members, a civilian, eight dependents and two contractors, a defense official told USNI News on Saturday.
As of Sunday, about 167,000 people have been reported infected with the virus worldwide resulting in 6,000 deaths. In the U.S., 3,250 have been reported infected resulting in 40 deaths.