Pentagon rescinds ban on recruits previously hospitalized with COVID-19

The Defense Department has rescinded a policy that banned recruits from enlisting in the military if they have been hospitalized for coronavirus, the Pentagon’s head of manpower said Thursday.

The original policy, released earlier this month, began as a total ban on recruits who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past. That was then changed to potentially barring the enlistee if they had been hospitalized due to the illness.

But the “interim guidance” has now been pulled and the department has returned to its previous process and guidelines for ushering recruits into the military, Matthew Donovan, the under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, told reporters at the Pentagon.

“At the same time, we’re having our health professionals and our doctors and researchers take a look at that, come up with any recommendations that they’ll provide to me and [Defense Secretary Mark Esper]. And I think they’re almost done with that now,” he said.

Asked if a recruit would need a waiver to join if they had contracted the illness and recovered, Donovan said the military will review such instances on a case-by-case basis.

“Any infectious disease, we want to make sure they’re not infectious at the time. … There’s a lot of unknowns about this virus right now. Are there any long-term, lasting effects? That’s what our health care professionals are looking at right now, and they’ll come up with that recommendation on if there’s any changes required to the accession standard,” he said.

Donovan added that he had explained the policy earlier on Thursday morning to Senate Armed Services Committee members worried about the ban and its effects on recruiting.

The Pentagon has raced over the past several months to set up new protocols to prevent any recruit from bringing coronavirus into the military as the pandemic overtook the country.

Those new practices include an initial screening in the recruit’s home state, a screening at the military entrance processing centers and then again once they are moved to initial training facilities, with a quarantine before training begins. 

Doctors, scientists and researchers are still not sure whether the new illness has any short- or long-term effects, including possible damage to the lungs or susceptibility to contracting the virus at another point in time. 

Tags Coronavirus Mark Esper Military personnel Military recruitment

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