Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Minimize COVID-19 holiday spread with small gatherings, mask wearing

Soldiers standing in a line, wearing masks Ft. Stewart, Georgia soldiers prepare to deploy during the holidays. (Photo courtesy of Ft. Stewart Public Affairs.)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

The holiday season is upon us, and so is a drastic rise in coronavirus cases, now in the red zone across most of the U.S. and its territories. How can you celebrate holiday gatherings while staying as safe as possible from the disease?

Military and public health officials agree: For Thanksgiving, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. If you must travel, be informed of the risks involved.

“I completely understand the stressors the holidays add during these unprecedented times,” said Air Force Col. Gwendolyn Foster, commander of the 60th Medical Group at Travis Air Force Base. ”We all want to connect and be close with family during the holiday, mine included; however, in light of the increase in COVID-19 cases across the United States, the risk is too great.”

The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division (AFHSD) said in a briefing statement: “There is no indication the COVID-19 situation will be reversing any time soon….The probability exists for this situation to go from bad to worse as we head into the holidays.”

In fact, as of Nov. 20, 95 of 120 military installation markets were at “very high risk (red) for COVID-19,” AFHSD Integrated Biosurveillance Chief Juan Ubiera said in a Nov. 24 statement. AFHSD defines markets as groups of military installations with the same general geographic area. Hot spots are defined as 25 new cases per 100,000/day for all counties within 30 miles of a given installation or market, Ubiera stated. 

The Department of Defense has reported approximately 109,000 COVID-19 cases and 119 deaths. That compares to the U.S. civilian figures of more than 12.3 million cases and more than 258,000 deaths based on data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The risk of COVID in the local civilian community is a very good proxy for the risk of an installation….where they shop, worship, eat, go to school, and visit friends and family” rather than where they work, said Navy Capt. Natalie Wells, AFHSD chief of Epidemiology and Analysis.

Person washing hands
Military and public health personnel are urging Americans not to travel during the holidays, and, if they do, to follow all necessary precautions – wear a mask, socially distance and wash hands frequently. (Courtesy Photo from 21st Space Wing, Peterson AFB, Colorado.)

Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, the Defense Health Agency’s senior enlisted leader, stated “These holidays may look a bit different than we anticipated, but that does not diminish their relevance.” He suggested using “lessons learned” over the last year of the pandemic for safer holidays.

“Continue to follow local guidelines, wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, stay physically distanced and wear a two-layer mask,” he said. “Your discipline in doing these simple things will get us through the finish line. Some of us are going to miss seeing family and friends, while others will be working through the holidays to stay in the fight. I urge all of you to find ways to stay socially connected with loved ones while maintaining appropriate physical distance.”

More than 120 DOD Title 10 personnel have been deployed to support the COVID-19 response to the medical surge needs. Nearly 17,000 National Guard and more than 900 state active duty personnel have also been deployed.

The CDC is urging Americans not to travel to holiday gatherings if they have recently been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have not met the criteria for when it is safe to be around others. Or if they have symptoms of COVID-19, are awaiting coronavirus test results, may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last 14 days or are at increased risk of severe illness.

The CDC is particularly emphatic about urging extra precautions for family members who live outside the gathering place, such as military personnel or college students returning home for the holidays. Service personnel, students or other guests who do not live with you or in your housing unit should be considered from different households and therefore pose potentially greater risks of disease exposure.

Duration of contact also counts, the CDC website also informed – ‘Being within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of becoming sick and requires a 14-day personal quarantine.' Some individuals with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, which pushes the risks even higher.

Additionally, the CDC recommends having holiday gatherings outdoors, if possible. If winter weather stops outdoor gatherings, stay indoors but open windows and doors to circulate air. COVID-19 virus particles do not survive as long outdoors as they do in confined poorly ventilated and fully enclosed indoor spaces.

DOD travel guidelines remain in effect and are detailed in an Aug. 6 memorandum, “Force Health Protection Guidance (Supplement 12),” for personnel traveling during the pandemic. This memo is under revision and will be published in the next few days, said AFHSD Integrated Biosurveillance Chief Dr. Jose Sanchez.

“The revised memo will address pre- and post-testing guidance, the restriction-to-movement period after travel, provision of waivers and post-travel recommendations to decrease transmission,” he said.

“It is recommended that family members or other close contacts should consider having a post-travel COVID-19 molecular PCR test within 3-5 days of return, especially if travel included an area or country with high-level transmission,” Sanchez added.

The CDC offers a wealth of information about holiday gatherings with those outside the immediate host household and to help make the decision whether to travel to places outside your immediate home, including international travel.

You also may be interested in...

DHA-PI 6205.01: Medical Logistics Guidance for the DoD Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Vaccination Program

Policy

This Defense Health Agency-Procedural Instruction (DHA-PI), based on the authority of References (a) and (b), and in accordance with the guidance of References (c) through (n), establishes the Defense Health Agency's (DHA's) procedures for ordering, receiving, and managing COVID-19 Vaccines inventory and ancillary kits.

DHA-IPM 20-004: Department of Defense (DoD) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Vaccination Program Implementation

Policy

This Defense Health Agency (DHA) Interim Procedures Memorandum (IPM), based on the authority of References (a) through (d), and in accordance with the guidance cited in References (e) through (aa), establishes the DHA’s procedures to implement instructions, assign responsibilities, and prescribe procedures for the COVID-19 Vaccination Program. This DHA-IPM applies to DHA, DHA Components (activities under the authority direction, and control of the DHA), Military Departments (MILDEP), and the United States Coast Guard (CG). This DHA-IPM cancels and replaces DHA-IPM 20-004, “Department of Defense (DoD) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Vaccination Program Implementation,” December 13, 2020.

TAB A MEO COVID19 Medical Coding Policy

Policy

Memorandum for DHA Staff - Military Medical Treatment Facilities to Implement Updated DHA COVID-19 Medical Coding Policy

  • Identification #: N/A
  • Date: 3/25/2021
  • Type: Memorandums
  • Topics: Coronavirus

DHA COVID19 Medical Coding PolicyV5 1v

Policy

Establishes the DHA procedures to standardize the coding for Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) within military medical treatment facilities (MTFs). This memorandum replaces DHA-Policy Memorandum 20-003 of July 1, 2020. Attachment 1 was updated to include the 2021 procedure and diagnosis codes for COVID-19, including the new vaccination and treatment codes.

  • Identification #: 20-003
  • Date: 3/25/2021
  • Type: Memorandums
  • Topics: Coronavirus

Supplemental Guidance for Providing DoD Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccines to DoD Contractor Employees and Select Foreign Nationals

Policy

This memorandum provides supplemental guidance on the provision of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines, in accordance with reference (a). The Defense Health Agency (DHA) is the lead coordinating DoD Component for executing this guidance, in coordination with the Military Departments and other DoD Components as appropriate.

HA Guidance for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Laboratory Pre-Testing Questionnaire

Policy

This memorandum provides guidance for a COVID-19 laboratory pre-testing questionnaire that will be mandatory for all Active Duty Service members and encouraged for all other DoD beneficiaries treated at military medical treatment facilities.

Executive Order on Ensuring Access to United States Government COVID-19 Vaccines

Policy

This EO outlines who should receive priority access to COVID-19 vaccines developed in the United States or procured by the United States Government (“United States Government COVID-19 Vaccines”).

Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccine Guidance

Policy

This memorandum provides guidance on the provision of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines. The Defense Health Agency (DHA) is the lead coordinating DoD Component for executing this guidance, in coordination with the Military Departments and other DoD Components.

DHA-AI 3020-01: Return to the Workplace Staffing Plan in the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Environment

Policy

This Defense Health Agency-Administrative Instruction (DHA-AI), based on the authority of References (a) through (b) and in accordance with the guidance of References (c) through (z3), establishes the Defense Health Agency's (DHA) plan to return to full operations and support the whole-of-government response, during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. This DHA-AI also provides a preventive plan to monitor and assess for the appearance of new cases and implement those processes that will prevent them from impacting the workforce. The processes describe herein are intended to offer an actionable plan for the workforce to re-enter DHA Administrative Offices. See Appendix 1 for a summary of the DHA Administrative Office Reopening Plan. The plan uses the Force Health Protection Guidance and Health Protection Conditions (HPCON), in accordance with Reference (d), to ensure protection for the workforce, including the most vulnerable-to-serious complications from the virus while enabling DHA Administrative Offices to continue its mission. See Appendix 2 for the conceptual HPCON framework.

  • Identification #: 3020-01
  • Date: 11/3/2020
  • Type: Administrative Instructions
  • Topics: Coronavirus

DHA AI 3020.01: Return to the Workplace Staffing Plan in the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Environment

Policy

This Defense Health Agency-Administrative Instruction (DHA-AI), establishes the Defense Health Agency’s (DHA) plan to return to full operations and support the whole-of-government response, during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and in preparation for regression or resurgence in COVID-19 cases that could impact the workforce.

  • Identification #: DHA AI 3020.01
  • Date: 6/12/2020
  • Type: Administrative Instructions
  • Topics: Coronavirus
Showing results 1 - 10 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.