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HPCON: Understanding Health Protection Condition Levels

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The Defense Department is taking action around the globe to keep our service members, civilian employees, contractors and their families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, all while supporting our continued mission.

During many of the public briefings that have been held about the crisis, DOD leaders have often mentioned the acronym “HPCON.” If you’re not sure what that is, here’s your answer.

The DOD has protocol for public health emergencies, and they’re known as health protection conditions – HPCONs. Commanders review and update these HPCONs based on risk levels within a local community and in cooperation with local, state or host nation guidance. Military leaders and public health personnel use them to guide actions taken in response to a health threat.

An airman stands at a hand-sanitizing station outside a building.
Sanitize Your Hands
An airman assigned to the 354th Medical Group sanitizes her hands at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, March 20, 2020. The unit has taken extra precautions to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Beaux Hebert
VIRIN: 200320-F-RQ072-1016Y
Woman points medical device at man’s forehead
Health Screen
A field medical technician with 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., pre-screens a II Marine Expeditionary Force Marine for the coronavirus disease after he returned from a deployment overseas, March 24, 2020.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. Rachel K. Young-Porter
VIRIN: 200323-M-ZV140-1137C

Here are the DOD’s five HPCON levels and what actions they may require:

0 - ROUTINE - No Community Transmission
0 - ROUTINE - No Community Transmission
Photo By: Scott Duerbeck
VIRIN: 200327-D-RB598-008

When the HPCON is 0, or “Routine,” maintain your everyday actions to stop the spread of germs:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw it in the trash. Cough or sneeze into your elbow if tissues are unavailable.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Practice a good diet and exercise.
  • Make sure all immunizations are up to date, including your seasonal flu shot.
    A sailor holds a syringe to a little bottle of liquid.
    Neat Needle
    Navy Seaman Kenny Liu prepares a needle with a flu vaccination aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford in Newport News, Va., Oct. 22, 2019. The ship’s crew received flu vaccines.
    Photo By: Navy Seaman Apprentice Angel Jaskulos
    VIRIN: 191022-N-NO627-1085C
  • Stay home if you are sick, and avoid close contact with family members and pets.
  • Create an emergency preparedness kit.
  • Create a pet disaster preparedness kit if needed.

ALPHA - LIMITED - Community Transmission Beginning
ALPHA - LIMITED - Community Transmission Beginning
Photo By: Scott Duerbeck
VIRIN: 200327-D-RB598-009

When the HPCON is A, or “Alpha,” there’s a limited health alert. Maintain your routine actions but also:

  • Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you’re sick, call your medical provider for instructions on receiving care before going to a clinic or hospital. Make sure your installation is aware of the symptoms of your health threat.
  • Stay informed by routinely checking reliable sources of information such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your local public health agencies.

BRAVO- MODERATE - Increased Community Transmission
BRAVO- MODERATE - Increased Community Transmission
Photo By: Scott Duerbeck
VIRIN: 200327-D-RB598-010

When the HPCON is B, or “Bravo,” your area is experiencing an increase in community transmissions. Follow the guidelines for the previous HPCONs along with the following:

  • Practice social distancing. Avoid unnecessary contact with others, such as shaking hands and hugging.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel, especially to areas known to be experiencing active disease transmission.
  • Ensure supplies of food, medication and other items needed for babies and pets are available to last at least 14 days.
    A sailor stocks shelves in a store.
    Shelf Stocker
    A sailor helps restock shelves at the commissary on Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., March 19, 2020. In order to maintain mission readiness during the COVID-19 outbreak, commissary and Navy Exchange hours have changed to allow active duty families initial access to the goods and services provided.
    Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Arnesia McIntyre
    VIRIN: 200319-N-NJ416-023
  • Prepare for travel restrictions and cancellation of public gatherings, such as school, religious and other community activities. Make alternative arrangements for childcare.
  • Observe local guidance on movement restrictions and access requirements for military installations.
  • Seek guidance from employers and unit leaders about changes to work practices (for example, telework) and training events.
  • Comply with medical orders for self-isolation or quarantine.

CHARLIE - SUBSTANTIAL - Sustained Community Transmission
CHARLIE - SUBSTANTIAL - Sustained Community Transmission
Photo By: Scott Duerbeck
VIRIN: 200327-D-RB598-011

When the HPCON is C, or “Charlie,” your area is experiencing sustained community transmission. Follow all previous HPCON instructions and:

  • Expect cancellation of in-person gatherings (such as school, daycare and all community activities) and restricted ability to travel.
  • Plan activities for family members, especially children, in case you are restricted to your home for prolonged time periods.
  • Prepare for the potential of limited access to supplies and services, including severely restricted access to military installations.
    Airmen wearing protective garb gather near a car.
    Drive-Thru Testing
    Airmen assigned to the 56th Medical Group conduct coronavirus tests at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., March 23, 2020. The unit is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and working closely with Arizona health officials in an effort to decrease the impact of COVID-19 at the base.
    Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Alexander Cook
    VIRIN: 200323-F-BQ566-1004Y
  • Implement remote work procedures as directed by your employer.
  • If outside the U.S., authorized or ordered departure actions may be implemented.

DELTA - SEVERE - Widespread Community Transmission
DELTA - SEVERE - Widespread Community Transmission
Photo By: Scott Duerbeck
VIRIN: 200327-D-RB598-012

When the HPCON is D, or “Delta,” your area is experiencing severe, widespread community transmission. Follow all previous HPCON instructions and implement the following:

  • Expect to remain at home for extended periods of time as movement in the community may be restricted; at-home isolation or quarantine may be directed.
  • Follow all directives and guidance from local, state and federal authorities; they are enacted to protect the health and safety of you and your family.

Regardless of the HPCON level, always follow the guidance from your installation and local public health agencies.