WASHINGTON (AP) — Some military bases will be able to begin bringing back some personnel and take the first major step toward a return to normal operations this week, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The announcement came as the Pentagon laid out detailed plans that will govern how the department and its forces around the world will gradually and systematically begin to lift restrictions put in place by the global coronavirus pandemic. Defense officials did not say how many bases or where they were, but said the locations would be made public.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters, Matthew Donovan, the department’s under secretary for personnel, said that some locations will be able to “go green immediately” based on the conditions in their region and a downward trend in virus cases or positive COVID-19 tests that has lasted for two weeks. He said the locations would be on a list that will be released, and would conform with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assessments of regions where the virus was declining.
Until now, all Defense Department installations have been at “phase zero” which requires that at least 80% of the workforce be teleworking, and mandates social distancing, masks and other health precautions.
Under the plans released Tuesday, there are four more phases. Each one calls for a two-week decline in virus cases and other conditions at the base and the surrounding community in order to move to the next phase.
According to Donovan, the bases who could “go green” and move from phase zero to phase one as of Tuesday night will have met a number of conditions for both the installation and its surrounding region. Those conditions include the two-week downward trend of virus cases, adequate availability of health care, testing, daycare, personal protective equipment and accessible transit.
Those facilities could begin to decrease the number of people teleworking to 60% and start having gatherings of up to 10 people, as long as there is continued social distancing.
At phase two, gyms and some expanded food court choices could open, with social distancing, and as little as 20% of the workforce could be teleworking. And if all goes well for another two weeks, bases would move to phase three, which allows workers to return to their offices, with exceptions allowed for individuals.
The Pentagon, for example, has currently seen a downward trend in virus cases for eight days. But any move to the next phase would be contingent on a similar decline in the region, along with removal of local and state stay-at-home orders currently in place, and the availability of daycare, transit and other health services.
The decisions are made by the military service secretaries and combatant commanders around the world.
Pentagon officials also on Tuesday released updated guidelines for military travel and deployments. The new rules lift mandatory dates banning travel, and now allow commanders to make decisions based on local conditions. The guidelines lay out requirements for 14-day isolation periods when moves occur.