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.

However, off-base they still have to mask up.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that it believes it is safe for fully vaccinated individuals to resume normal activities without a mask, but Hawaii opted to play it safe and maintained a mask mandate that requires face coverings for anybody within 6 feet of somebody from a different household.

“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.”

Service members in Hawaii who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks while on base but are still subject to local regulations off base. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

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.

Many military leaders said they never asked for the exemption and continued ordering incoming troops and families to quarantine. The state later rescinded it at the request of INDOPACOM’s now retired commander Adm. Phil Davidson.

Hawaii also implemented its Safe Travels program in October, allowing travelers to skip the 10-day quarantine if they get a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure to the island state.

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