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Air Force adds to DOD mask guidance

Airman 1st Class Matthew Neimi of the 88th Security Forces Squadron scans the ID card of a retiree at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base last March. Under new Defense Department guidelines, masks and face coverings must be worn upon installation entry but lowered briefly for identification purposes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)

Airman 1st Class Matthew Neimi of the 88th Security Forces Squadron scans the ID card of a retiree at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base last March. Under new Defense Department guidelines, masks and face coverings must be worn upon installation entry but lowered briefly for identification purposes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth issued a memorandum Feb. 16 that supplements the Defense Department’s new mask policy on military installations while performing official duties.

The initial DOD memorandum was issued Feb. 4 and follows a Jan. 20 presidential executive, ”Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing,” which provides updated guidance on the use of face coverings and masks, physical distancing and full compliance with health directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Thank you for actively serving on the front lines in our fight against COVID,” said Col. Patrick Miller, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base installation and 88th Air Wing Base commander. “We will continue to adjust to this new operating environment to keep you and your families safe, so that you can focus on the mission and taking care of each other. You remain our most valuable and powerful weapon.”

This updated Department of the Air Force order continues the COVID-19 fight and ensures military preparedness is maintained, he said. The secretary’s memorandum supersedes all previously issued guidance.  

The Air Force memorandum reinforces that all individuals on military installations performing official duties on behalf of DOD from any location other home, including outdoor shared spaces, will wear masks in accordance with current CDC guidelines.

Miller said Airmen must continuously wear masks at their work centers. This includes indoor and outdoor common areas or shared workspaces (including open floorplan office spaces, cubicle embankments and conference rooms).

Order exceptions 

Miller clarified the Air Force memo exceptions for individuals who must wear masks continuously while on the installation and performing official duties:

  1. When necessary to reasonably accommodate religious beliefs. For questions, reach out to the 88th Air Base Wing Chaplain’s Office.
  2. When underlying health conditions prohibit the wear of a face covering and the individual is in possession of medical documentation from a health care provider outlining such a condition and its restrictions on mask wear and face coverings.
  3. When outdoors and proper physical distancing can be maintained.
  4. When actively participating in physical fitness activities, either indoors or outdoors, and proper physical distancing is maintained or additional measures are implemented to mitigate the transmission threat. Wright-Patterson fitness centers already have mitigating measures to meet this criteria. While in the fitness center, personnel are advised to remove their masks while actively working out on a piece of equipment, then put it back on when done. Workout partners will be required to wear proper face coverings if physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  5. When an individual is alone in a vehicle or sharing it only with members of their household. This does not change the previously provided guidance for interactions with Security Forces at WPAFB gates. This measure protects both Defenders and individuals by minimizing potential exposure time to only when facial verification against an ID is needed.
  6. When masks substantively interfere with the proper wear and use of personal-protective equipment necessary for accomplishing official duties. This will be mission driven.
  7. When personnel are in primary aircrew positions during critical flight and emergency phases or when using flight-crew oxygen equipment.
  8. When clear or unrestricted visualization of verbal communication is essential to safe and effective operations. This exception extends to active-speaking roles in official ceremonies, events or broadcasts where physical distancing is maintained and other mitigating measures are implemented, as appropriate.

All individuals on military installations are to continue practicing CDC-approved protective measures, such as physically distancing 6 feet apart, wearing masks at all times, washing hands with soap and water frequently throughout the day for at least 20 seconds, and not touching your face with unwashed hands, DOD and Air Force officials stated.