Government and Regulations

DoD to Return to Work in Phases

Defense Department plan is tied to local conditions, not specific dates.


The US Department of Defense (DoD) has unveiled a plan for returning to normal operations. The plan is tied to “local conditions” and does not have specific dates for opening. Instead, the plan provides phase-by-phase guidance to commanders, supervisors, and employees to safely and effectively return to Pentagon Reservation offices. Along with guidelines for in-office and telework targets; vulnerable populations; entrance screening; and the status and cleaning of common areas, food courts, gyms and other facilities, the plan includes mandatory requirements regarding face coverings, social distancing, and symptomatic personnel throughout each phase.

Building on the 3-phase White House “Opening Up America Again” plan, the Joint Staff, military services, and the DoD COVID Task Force have developed a 5-phase plan. Currently, the department is at Phase Zero. The Pentagon Reservation Plan for Resilience and ‘Aligning with National Guidelines for Opening Up America Again’ “places the health and safety of our workforce first,” is “nested” within the White House, Office of Management and Budget, and Office of Personnel Management guidelines and plans. The goal is to allow the workforce to return to the Pentagon Reservation “in a controlled and steady manner.”

The DoD reported nearly 10,000 COVID-19 cases as of June 1, 2020, including 6,596 active-duty service members, 1,124 dependents, 1,516 civilians, and 649 DoD contractors. To date, 3 service members and 5 dependents have died of COVID-19, including Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok, a physician assistant and member of the New Jersey National Guard, who died March 28, 2020.

Since mid-March the DoD says it has taken “aggressive steps” to stop the spread of COVID-19, implementing health protection measures that resulted in a sustained transmission rate below that of the region at large. Teams have deep cleaned and sanitized more than 1 million square feet of office space on the Pentagon Reservation to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards. And for the first time ever, according to the DoD, maximized telework options have enabled more than two-thirds of the Pentagon Reservation workforce to continue to work at alternate locations.

The criteria to enter Phase 1 require a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses reported with a 14-day period and a downward trajectory of COVID-like symptoms reported within a 14-day period. There must also be a downward trajectory of documented COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period or a downward trajectory of positive COVID-19 tests as a percentage of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests).

Finally, hospitals must treat all patients without crisis care and have a “robust” testing program in place for at-risk health care workers, including emerging antibody testing.

Those same criteria must be met between each phase of the plan. The “gates” for controlling moves from phase to phase are not tied to dates but are based on state, regional, and local public health conditions, availability of hospitals and testing capacity, and monitoring through the DoD’s Electronic Surveillance System for Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE).

If the monitors detect a resurgence in the spread of COVID-19, the department will reassess its protection measures and workforce phase and respond appropriately. DoD service members and civilian employees are advised to talk with their commanders or supervisors to determine when it’s all right to return.

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