U.S. Indo-Pacific Command relaxed its mask wearing guidelines on Monday. The command announced that “effective immediately” all fully vaccinated military personnel who received their final dose at least two weeks ago are no longer required to wear masks while on base either indoors or outdoors.
“When not on a (Department of Defense) facility, all DoD personnel, whether fully vaccinated or not, will continue to strictly follow state and local regulations, including local business and workplace guidance,” INDOPACOM said in a press release. It also said that military personnel who are not vaccinated will still be required to wear masks on base and “must continue to follow all applicable DoD mask guidance.”
When the pandemic began last year, Hawaii-based commanders initially shared the number of military-linked COVID-19 infections with the public in online town hall meetings until the Pentagon under then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a gag order on discussing local transmission rates.
The military shares its infection data with Hawaii’s Department of Health, which includes them in the state’s total case count but doesn’t publicly differentiate between military and civilian cases. The secrecy around the numbers has highlighted the sometimes fraught relationship between Hawaii residents and the military.
A quarantine exemption that the state issued to military dependents arriving in Hawaii as part of a change of duty station was criticized by some lawmakers and community leaders as giving special treatment to military personnel and their families. It came just after police broke up at least two large beach parties of mostly Schofield-based soldiers over Memorial Day weekend last year.
Kevin Knodell covers the military and veterans in Hawaii and the greater Pacific for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.