The military has ordered all troops and other personnel stationed in Hawaii to resume wearing masks indoors while on base as well as areas outside the gates due to a new surge in coronavirus cases.

The decision was in line with a Pentagon announcement on Wednesday that it has rescinded earlier orders allowing vaccinated service members, contractors and visitors to remove the face coverings when indoors.

“All service members, federal employees, onsite contractor employees, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status” must wear masks indoors at facilities on military bases, training grounds or other facilities operated by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon said.

US Military personnel representing the Marines, US Army and U.S. Navy during a US Indo-Pacific Command change of ceremony held at Kilo Pier at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam. April 30, 2021
The Pentagon says all troops and others must wear masks while indoors on base after a brief hiatus for those who are vaccinated. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Hawaii has maintained its indoor mask mandate for the state even after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased guidance on the issue in May. Masks are no longer required when safe distances can be maintained outdoors.

The rapid spread of the new coronavirus Delta variant has elicited concerns of a new wave of infections. The CDC now believes vaccinated individuals may be carrying and spread the variant to unvaccinated people and has updated its guidance.

In May, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said vaccinated troops could stop wearing masks in most cases, although commanders stressed that everybody had to continue wearing them off base in accordance with local Hawaii laws and guidelines.

It reversed that decision on Wednesday.

“According to the CDC’s definition, Honolulu County is an area of substantial transmission,” INDOPACOM spokesman Maj. Rob Martins said Thursday in an email. “All DoD personnel will comply with CDC guidance regarding areas where masks should be worn.”

“Furthermore, the change in policy requires all personnel in USINDOPACOM HQ to wear a mask indoors until further notice,” Martins added. “We continue to train and operate daily, complying with CDC guidelines where applicable.”

COVID-19 infection rates on military bases and among troops and dependents in Hawaii are kept secret from the public, though the military shares infection data with Hawaii Department of Health officials who include it in their state totals.

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