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Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 as Travel Restrictions Loosen

Current as of Oct. 5, 2021

Testing and Surveillance for COVID-19

Learn about the DOD’s expanded testing for coronavirus disease 2019 and other measures to detect the disease early and stop its spread.

Conditions are beginning to improve with regard to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. In response, the Department of Defense is changing its approach to personnel movement and travel.

Officials signed a memo March 15, 2021, to transition to a conditions-based phased approach to the restrictions. Until further notice, the DOD will base decisions on conditions in specific areas. This replaces the broad travel restrictions in place before.

The memo cancels previous travel restrictions and reissues guidance that will remain in effect until further notice.

With restrictions gradually easing, it’s even more important to take every precaution to protect yourself and others when you do travel. And the DOD will continue to work with you to keep you and our community healthy and safe.

Wearing cloth face coverings

Masks are required, whether or not you are vaccinated, in areas of high community transmission. The CDC provides data on levels of community transmission. It also offers guidance and definitions of low, moderate, substantial and high spread.

You must continue to wear a mask, regardless of the level of community transmission in your location, if you are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Masks are still required on public transportation and at transportation hubs for everyone, vaccinated or not. All individuals must also wear a mask in airports, bus and train stations; and on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation. Follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for wearing cloth face coverings. This can slow the spread of the virus and help people who may unknowingly have it from transmitting it to others.

  • Create your own cloth face coverings using common household items such as T-shirts, scarves and bandanas. Making and using these coverings helps protect public health while reserving critical supplies such as surgical masks and N-95 respirators for medical first responders, as current CDC guidance recommends.
  • Do not place cloth face coverings on children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
  • Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth when removing your face covering. Wash your hands as soon as you finish.
  • If you are fully vaccinated but in an area of high community transmission, wear your face covering whenever you are on Department of Defense property, installations (except personal residences) and facilities. If you are not fully vaccinated, you must wear your face covering on DOD property regardless of the level of community transmission.
  • All individuals who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and are performing DOD duties, whether on military installations or at other locations (indoor and outdoor), must wear masks, including in common areas, shared workspaces and outdoor shared spaces. All individuals must wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, in areas of high community transmission. Masks must cover the face and nose in compliance with guidance from the CDC. Masks may be removed if an unvaccinated individual:
    • Is working from their home
    • Is alone in an office with floor to ceiling walls and a closed door
    • Is eating or drinking while social distancing (may remove for brief periods of time)
    • Needs to lower the mask for identification or security purposes
    • Needs to lower or remove the mask to reasonably accommodate an individual with a disability

Additional exceptions, categorical or case-by-case, may be granted in writing by DOD Component heads for service members and their families. If granted, exceptions should include appropriate alternative safeguards whenever feasible, such as additional physical distancing measures or additional testing consistent with DOD testing protocols. The authority to grant exceptions for all DOD Components located on the Pentagon Reservation is the interim director of Administration and Management. For all other situations outside of office settings when temporary unmasking is necessary for mission requirements, the authority to grant exceptions may be delegated in writing to officials at a level no lower than a general/flag officer in the grade of 0-7, senior executive service member (or equivalent) or for installations that do not have officials at these levels, 0-6 installation commanders.

Masks recommended by the CDC include:

  • Non-medical disposable masks
  • Masks made with breathable fabric or tightly woven fabric
  • Masks with two or three layers
  • Masks with inner filter pockets.

Unauthorized masks include:

  • Novelty or non-protective masks
  • Masks with ventilation valves
  • Face shields

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 during travel

The Department of Defense is taking steps to protect travelers and others from COVID-19 by:

  • Prescreening service members before travel: Only those who are healthy and least at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 will be allowed to travel
  • Using military and contracted planes for travel to or from overseas locations, when possible
  • Screening all passengers on military flights for signs of illness before they board the plane
  • Screening all service members, family and civilian military employees when they arrive at their duty station after traveling commercially

The screening includes a questionnaire to help determine whether you may have been exposed to COVID-19. Someone will take your temperature and visually check you for signs of illness. There may be additional screenings depending on where you traveled and other risk factors.

Overseas travel

Travelers returning from any overseas location are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than three days before travel, or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past three months before boarding a flight to the United States.

After travel:

  • Get a viral test three to five days after travel.
  • Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms; isolate and get tested if you develop symptoms.
  • Follow all state and local recommendations or requirements after travel.

If you have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, get a viral test three to five days after travel and self-quarantine for seven days. If you do not get tested for COVID-19, self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.

See all CDC recommendations for international travel during COVID-19.

What you can do

Everyone has a role in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Do your part and keep yourself and your family safe by getting vaccinated against COVID-19. When you are traveling, keep your command updated on your itinerary. If you feel sick, stay home. Notify your leadership and call your doctor.

Even if you haven’t traveled and you feel fine, practice social distancing and wear your cloth face covering if you are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Keep at least six feet away from others. Avoid crowds and wash your hands often. Social distancing combined with mask wearing, avoiding touching your face and frequent hand-washing will assist in defending the force against COVID-19 while protecting the nation. COVID-19 is one of the deadliest threats our nation has ever faced. As we have done throughout our history, the military will rise to this challenge. It is imperative that we do all we can to ensure the health and safety of our force, our families and our communities so we can prevail in this fight.

Understanding of COVID-19 continues to change, so continue to check our Coronavirus Updates for Our Military Community page for updates.

Want to find the phone number for your installation’s housing office or Military and Family Support Center? Find those and more on MilitaryINSTALLATIONS, an online information directory for military installations worldwide.

For updates and information specific to your location, visit your installation’s official website. You can also follow your installation’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram platforms. For Department of Defense updates for the military community:

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