Pentagon announces new face mask guidance

Defense Secretary Mark Esper previewed the new guidance on ABC's "This Week."

April 5, 2020, 3:33 PM

Anyone on Department of Defense property, installations or facilities must wear a cloth face covering when they cannot maintain 6 feet of social distance in public area or work centers, according to a new directive released Sunday afternoon.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper had said the guidance was coming in an appearance on ABC's "This Week" Sunday morning.

"Now we're going to move towards face covering," he told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

As an interim measure, individuals are encouraged to make face coverings from household items or common materials, such as clean T-shirts or other clean cloths that can cover the nose and mouth, according to the DOD memo.

Any exceptions to this new guidance must be approved by local commanders and submitted up the chain of command for awareness.

Over 1,200 service members and Department of Defense civilians have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since its outbreak.

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"We want to take every measure to protect our troops … (while) making sure we can conduct our national security missions. And to do that we can't always do the 6 feet distancing whether you're an attack submarine, a bomber, in a tank so we have to take other measures," Esper said.

Esper also said he fully supported acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly's decision to dismiss the Navy captain who raised concerns on the handling of coronavirus on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in a letter to his superiors that went public.

"Secretary Modly made a tough decision -- a tough call. I have full faith and confidence in him, in the Navy leadership and I support their decision," Esper said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, telling Stephanopoulos that it was the Navy secretary who made the call to fire Capt. Brett Crozier, the commanding officer on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

In a letter to other senior Navy leaders, Crozier had urged that most of his crew of 5,000 be sailors be removed from the aircraft carrier to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"Sailors do not need to die," Crozier wrote in a letter that was leaked to The San Francisco Chronicle, sparking a firestorm of controversy and ultimately leading to his dismissal.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Modly said the president wanted Crozier fired.

At a press conference that same day, President Donald Trump said he didn't think the captain of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier should be "talking that way in a letter."

"I thought it was inappropriate," he said.

When pressed Sunday on whether the president wanted Crozier removed, Esper said, "Look, this was Secretary Modly's call. He came and briefed me the night before. The morning of, he sat down and talked to me. I listened to the recommendations of the CNO, the chief of naval operations, and General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was the Secretary Modly's call and I told him I would support it.”

Also on Saturday, the president announced an additional 1,000 military medical personnel would be deployed to cities across the country to help hospitals overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

"A few hundred" of those personnel will go to New York City hospitals, Esper said. Those personnel would add to hundreds of military medical experts who are staffing New York City's Javits Center, which has been converted into a temporary medical facility.

"The Javits Center will become a 2,500-bed hospital. It will be the largest hospital in the United States and it will be run by the United States military," Esper said Sunday.

The defense secretary also told Stephanopoulos that the Pentagon would consider allowing coronavirus patients to seek treatment on board two U.S. Navy hospital ships in Los Angeles and New York. The ships are currently taking trauma patients to relieve pressure on hospitals, but critics have argued that the ships are not being utilized to their full potential.

"With regard to the Comfort and Mercy, we sent those ships up several days, a week ago. They also arrived ahead of need," he said.

The Navy is prepared to open them up to coronavirus patients, as necessary, he said, "We just don't want trauma patients to become coronavirus patients."

ABC News' Luis Martinez and Elizabeth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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