Hours after announcing that testing positive for COVID-19 disqualifies for military service, the Pentagon has changed its policy.The original memo said that anyone who had been diagnosed with the virus could not serve.Revised guidelines, issued on Thursday, bar only those who had to go to the hospital for COVID-19 related treatment.
The Pentagon is walking back a policy that would have permanently disqualified those diagnosed with COVID-19 from joining the armed forces. Earlier this week, a military memo stated that those “with a history” of COVID-19—meaning a positive diagnosis—were barred for life from joining the military. Within hours, a new policy was announced that only bars those who sought treatment for the virus in a hospital, allowing those who were sickened and later recovered to enlist.
The original memo was posted to social media on May 6:
The memo was later confirmed by the Pentagon as genuine.
The memo outlined new procedures for Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), locations across the country that process potential recruits for the U.S. armed services. Under the guidelines, MEPS across the country would screen all newcomers for COVID-19 upon arrival. The screening, Military Times explains, would consist of “taking a temperature and answering questions about symptoms and potential contact.”
If a potential recruit failed the screening, they would have had to go home but could return to MEPS again in fourteen days for another screening–if they didn’t have symptoms. A COVID-19 diagnosis at any point in a person’s life would be “permanently disqualifying” for military service.
The memo prompted howls of disbelief on social media. As of May 7, the U.S. has had 1.7 million COVD-19 cases, with 173,000 persons recovered. That number is expected to grow, and some scientists believe the pandemic could stretch well into 2022.
The policy threatened to shrink what is already an unusually small pool of recruits for a country of 320 million. Seventy-one percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible to join the military due to “obesity, lack of a high school diploma, or a criminal record.” Including the coronavirus on the list would only serve to make healthy people—who were only temporarily unhealthy—incapable of serving their country.
Critics of the policy quickly pointed out that those in the military’s primary recruiting age group are the least affected by the virus. For example the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, manned mostly by people under the age of 30, had approximately 1,000 sailors test positive for COVID-19. Of those 1,000 only nine were hospitalized and one died. Between February 1 and May 5 only 48 people between the ages of 15 and 24 died of the coronavirus in the entire U.S.
The day after the memo was released the Pentagon announced new guidelines. The new rules allow those with a COVID-19 diagnosis in their past to enlist so long as they were not admitted to the hospital. This is a much more reasonable policy, giving survivors a chance to enlist while barring those that experienced complications, which could include lung and other forms of organ damage.
The U.S. Military has not operated during a pandemic for more than a century, the last being the 1918-1920 Spanish Influenza outbreak. The Pentagon is trying to keep the armed services manned to the greatest degree possible while protecting the force from COVID-19, and mistakes are inevitable.
Source: Military Times