The Pentagon is ordering that all military personnel must wear makeshift face coverings, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) public guidelines, if they need to work closer to each other than 6 feet of "social distancing."
The new guidelines apply to all military personnel, civilian employees, family members, contractors, and all other people on DoD property. They don't apply to the homes of service members or their families that are located on military installations.
Each department will provide further detailed guidance for its service members, the Pentagon said.
"As an interim measure, all individuals are encouraged to fashion face coverings from household items or common materials, such as clean T-shirts or other clean cloths that can cover the nose and mouth area."
The Department of Defense says it won't issue personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators or surgical masks "as these will be reserved for the appropriate personnel."
"The Department will continue to implement force protective measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to our total force and their families, and the American people," according to the statement.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said throughout the pandemic that 6 feet of social distancing is hard to achieve in some situations and that the military has to remain ready to carry out national security missions.
"So we have to take other measures. And I trust the commanders and our senior NCOs to do that. But we want to provide them all the guidance they need to adjust it, in whatever is unique to their situation, their circumstance, or their mission set."
The CDC's recommendation followed new evidence that COVID-19 can be spread by people before they display symptoms. The face covering is not to protect the wearer, but to keep them from inadvertently spreading the virus before they know they have it.
The agency urged people to use cloth face coverings in places where social distancing measures are challenging to maintain, including grocery stores and pharmacies, and especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.