Pentagon eases COVID restrictions, allows 90% occupancy

Pentagon photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ned T. Johnston 

The Pentagon is one step closer to returning to “normal” as it moved on July 9 to allow up to 90% of personnel in the office.

The Pentagon announced that it was transitioning to Health Protection Condition Alpha, which allows for more personnel to be in the building while still providing telework flexibility and enforcing social distancing requirements.

“This change is not a return to pre-COVID-19 normal,” John Kirby, DOD spokesman told reporters July 8. “We're going to continue force health protection levels to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our workforce.”

The 90% maximum occupancy goal is “not a target to achieve immediately” and “supervisors are expected to continue using telework and flexible scheduling,” bringing employees in only when needed to support their mission, DOD said in its announcement. Additionally, DOD will work with the Office of Management and Budget and the White House’s Safer Federal Workplace Task Force to finalize reentry plans.

The July 7 memo announcing the change notes that six-feet social distancing rules are still in effect, as well as face covering requirements for individuals who are not fully vaccinated or when “on public conveyances and mass transit.”

Additionally, all visitors will still be screened, the memo states, but the Pentagon and 9/11 Memorial are open for public tours and “medically vulnerable personnel will continue to be permitted to self-declare their condition and pursue telework, when possible, with supervisors taking precautions to limit their exposure while in the workplace.”

The decision comes after meeting certain criteria, including a drop in documented local COVID-19 cases and positive tests, as well as a local daily average of fewer than two new cases per 100,000 population in the last week.

While voluntary vaccination rates are relatively high -- roughly 70% of personnel have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine -- Kirby said DOD is considering mandates.

“If these vaccines are approved by the [Food and Drug Administration] then the [defense] secretary will certainly talk to the services and health care professionals here at the department to determine what the best options are going forward,” Kirby said July 8, “which could include making them mandatory.” He added that mandating FDA-approved vaccines was fairly common in DOD.

“Having been in the Navy myself for nearly 30 years, I can tell you -- I've been stuck quite a bit. And it wasn't like I was asking for every one of those,” Kirby said.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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