The U.S. military’s new public health guidelines to combat the spread of the coronavirus—which includes a measure requiring personnel to make their own masks—have prompted criticism by some over timing and lack of preparation.
The protocols, titled “Department of Defense Guidance on the Use of Cloth Face Coverings,” were included in a document released Sunday by the Pentagon and then seen by Newsweek. Measures include requiring immediately that “to the extent practical, all individuals on DoD property, installations, and facilities will wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work or work centers”—not including personal residences.
The Army, Navy and Air Force Departments “will issue updated force health protection guidance on DoD implementation,” the document said.
“As an interim measure, all individuals are encouraged to fashion face coverings from household items or common materials, such as clean T-shirts or other clean cloths that can cover the nose and mouth area,” it added. “Medical personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators or surgical masks will not be issued for this purpose as these will be reserved for appropriate personnel.”
The decision to implement such guidance, first previewed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper on ABC News earlier Sunday, was widely welcomed by observers. But its timing and the way it was to be executed has already drawn criticism.
“While I applaud DoD for taking the initiative to order this action, you can’t help but wonder how the most powerful military in the world seems to be making up a response to this pandemic as they go each day,” Fred Wellman, a retired Army officer who serves as CEO of veteran and military-focused research firm ScoutComms, told Newsweek.
“We have plans on the shelf for every possible thing on Earth. How was there not one for this and if there is, why aren’t we following it?” he added.
President Donald Trump and his administration’s response to the novel coronavirus has received significant backlash, including from within the ranks of the military. Days after USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier commanding officer U.S. Navy Captain Brett Crozier penned a desperate letter urging support from his superiors in quarantining sick sailors, he was abruptly removed from his post Thursday in a move that some saw as an attempt to stifle dissent among service members.
Earlier Sunday, The New York Times reported that Crozier had tested positive for COVID-19, citing two of his Naval Academy classmates.
“Rather than heeding the calls of real leaders like U.S. Navy Captain Crozier, the secretary of defense is forcing service members and their families to fend for themselves,” Malcolm Nance, a retired Navy senior chief who comes from seven generations of service members going back to the Civil War.
“He is reflective of this administration’s utter incompetence,” he added.
The novel coronavirus was first observed in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has spread globally. With over 330,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the United States has recorded by far more instances of the disease than any other country in the world. This figure includes 17,400 recoveries as well as more than 9,500 deaths, more U.S. casualties than Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan combined.
The White House has predicted that between 100,000 to 240,000 people in the U.S. could die from COVID-19 by August, figures they argued could reach as high as one million to 2.2 million without the intervention of the federal government.
Paul Rieckhoff, a retired Army first lieutenant who hosts the Angry Americans podcast and serves as editor-in-chief of Righteous Media, said the U.S. military efforts, which come as the country braces for the worst of the coronavirus outbreak, “shows absolute desperation and last-ditch effort.”
“Another necessary move that comes too late. Secretary Esper continues to be months behind the curve. Department of Defense leadership has continued to fail to lead—or even properly care for America’s sons and daughters in uniform,” Rieckhoff told Newsweek. “Secretary Esper and President Trump continue to stumble and bumble and our troops, the American people and our national defense continue to pay the high price.”
“Trump is focused on opening sports leagues, while our aircraft carriers are getting knocked out,” he added, warning U.S. adversaries would be “celebrating” the administration’s missteps. “What we’re seeing is the most egregious betrayal of our troops since Vietnam.”
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to Newsweek‘s request for comment Sunday evening.