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Defense Health Official Urges Personnel, Families to Wear Face Masks

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Defense Department personnel and their families — military and civilian — are urged to wear face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, a Defense Health Agency official said.

"The Department of Defense urges individuals on DOD property, installations and facilities to wear cloth face coverings when a 6-foot social distance cannot be maintained to help prevent the spread of COVID-19," Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Cameron J.L. Nelson, chief of DHA's occupational medicine branch, said, noting that this complies with guidance disseminated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"This guidance is especially important for families and others who may need to go out in public to perform essential tasks, such as food shopping," he added.

Soldier wears a face mask and gloves as protection.
Face Covering
Per Army guidance, soldiers are authorized to wear the neck gaiter and other cloth items, such as bandanas and scarves, as face coverings. Soldiers should not, however, fashion face coverings from Army combat uniforms or other materials that have been chemically treated. Personal protective equipment, such as N95 respirators or surgical masks, must be reserved for use in medical settings.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 200406-A-RJ111-001

The face-covering mask can be fashioned from simple household items such as a clean T-shirt or cloth, as demonstrated in CDC's do-it-yourself guide.

Because surgical face masks and other personal protective equipment are in short supply in the health care arena across the United States, the CDC advises that homemade cloth face coverings should:

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face;
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops;
  • Include multiple layers of fabric;
  • Allow for breathing without restriction; and
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to the shape.

Woman makes a face mask.
Makeshift Mask
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Marissa Cross creates a makeshift face mask at Fleet Activities Sasebo in Sasebo, Japan, April 7, 2020. Cross followed along with a video made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in which U.S. Surgeon General Public Health Service Vice Adm. (Dr.) Jerome Adams demonstrates a sewing-free method for a temporary cloth face mask. The mask is being made in response to a new order requiring face masks when proper social distancing is not possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Geoffrey P. Barham
VIRIN: 200407-N-SD711-0014C

CDC officials say cloth face coverings are especially critical in areas of significant community-based transmission.

Using a simple cloth face covering not only can slow the spread of COVID-19, but also can help those who could unknowingly have the virus from spreading it to others, the CDC said.

Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children younger than age 2, on anyone who has trouble breathing or who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance, the CDC advises.

Cloth face coverings should be washed routinely in a washing machine, CDC authorities said.

Service members make face masks.
Mask Making
Members of the 62nd Operations Squadron aircrew flight equipment section, along with leaders from other units, work to produce cloth face masks for mission-essential personnel at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., April 6, 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck
VIRIN: 200406-F-QE524-1001C

When removing a used face cloth covering, the CDC says people should use caution and not touch their eyes, nose or mouth, and immediately wash their hands after taking the covering off.

The CDC emphasizes that its recommendation on face cloth coverings complements, and does not replace, the President's Coronavirus Guidelines for America, 30 Days to Slow the Spread, which remains the cornerstone of the national effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.  

CDC officials will make additional recommendations as the evidence for appropriate public-health measures continues to develop.

"Everyone must do their part to protect themselves and their families," Nelson said.

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