Unmasked soldiers will have to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after new orders from the commanding general of Fort Rucker, Alabama.
The new measure was put in place by Maj. Gen. David Francis Tuesday, marking one of the most aggressive efforts by a military leader to combat the spread of the virus as the new delta variant drives the majority of infections and deaths. Most Southern states are hovering around 50% of adults having received a first dose of the vaccine as they see surging cases.
Alabama drags behind most of the nation in combating the coronavirus, with only about 33% of the state fully vaccinated. The majority of states have at least half of their population vaccinated.
“The big difference is going to be that if you are not wearing a mask, the leadership will be able to ask you, ask soldiers, to prove that they’ve been vaccinated by showing their vaccination card,” Francis said in a video posted on the base’s Facebook page Monday.
Masked troops will not have to prove their vaccine status.
About 70% of U.S. troops have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine which remains voluntary. However, the Pentagon is considering mandatory inoculations once the Food and Drug Administration fully approves the shots.
The order only applies to servicemembers, some 5,000 of whom serve on the base that houses the headquarters for Army aviation. However, the thousands of civilians who work and live on the base are “requested and strongly encouraged to adhere” to the new rule. Refusal to comply with vaccination or mask requirements could result in being booted from the installation.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that the Defense Department is “watching the Delta variant closely” and that leaders are working towards a fully vaccinated force.
“We continue to be in the mode of encouraging troops to get vaccinated to the maximum degree…we believe that’s the best way forward,” Kirby said.
On Sunday, the U.S. military in South Korea reimposed an indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status and restricted travel to Seoul, putting bars off limits as the nation grapples with a surge of infections.
The new directive will last through July 23rd, according to a statement from U.S. Forces Korea. The new restrictions came as the South Korean government announced 1,316 new COVID-19 patients Friday, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 165,344.
On Thursday, five U.S. troops in South Korea tested positive for COVID-19.
— Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.
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