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Defense chief Austin mandates masks on all military installations

Brig. Gen. Joe Kunkel, commander of the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing, COVID-friendly coins the Expeditionary Logistics Squadron Deployment and Distribution Flight by tossing it to Tech. Sgt. Elmer Paculba representing D-Flight after they won team of the month award. Photo by Jonathan Young/U.S. Air National Guard
Brig. Gen. Joe Kunkel, commander of the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing, COVID-friendly coins the Expeditionary Logistics Squadron Deployment and Distribution Flight by tossing it to Tech. Sgt. Elmer Paculba representing D-Flight after they won team of the month award. Photo by Jonathan Young/U.S. Air National Guard

Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin signed a memo Thursday directing all individuals on military installations to wear masks in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

The memo, which is effective immediately, also directs all individuals performing official duties on behalf of the Department of Defense at any location other than their homes, including outdoor spaces, to wear masks.

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Individuals can do without masks when they are alone in an office with a closed door, while eating or drinking, or when necessary to reasonably accommodate a person with a disability.

Individuals can also lower the mask briefly for identification or security purposes.

"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," Austin wrote.

As of Thursday evening, the Department of Defense has recorded 225,753 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 143,272 among military members, 45,106 among civilian Defense Department employees, 23,034 among dependents and 14,341 among contractors.

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Of those, 252 have died, 145,450 have recovered and 3,333 have been hospitalized.

At the end of December, the Defense Department had recorded 162,764 total cases across the department.

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