Army Commander Mandates Masks Indoors Again over Delta Variant, Breakthrough Cases

FORT DRUM, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 08: U.S. Army soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division arrive home from a 9-month deployment in Afghanistan on December 08, 2020 in Fort Drum, New York. The masked troops arrived from a several day journey from Kabul with a stop in Kuwait. They were …
John Moore/Getty Images

An Army commander recently decided to mandate wearing masks indoors for service members and civilians under his command, citing the delta variant of the coronavirus and breakthrough cases of infection among those vaccinated.

Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, commanding general of the U.S Army Medical Center of Excellence (MEDCoE) at Fort Sam Houston in Texas announced on social media accounts that he has mandated mask-wearing indoors beginning Sunday.

He tweeted Monday: “It’s all about readiness. While local #COVID19 [Chinese coronavirus] cases increase I have, once again, mandated mask wear indoors. Wear your masks and #GetTheShot. It’s all about protecting each other and #Soldier readiness!”

The MEDCoE also tweeted Monday: “The #MEDCoE CG directed a return to wearing masks indoors for all MEDCoE Personnel effective Sunday, 18 July 2021 due to an increase in local cases of #COVID19 believed to be the highly contagious “delta” variant. #GetTheShot #PeopleFirst.”

A MEDCoE Facebook page post said the mandate applies to “all MEDCoE Personnel (Soldiers and Civilians).” It added:

This is a return to our posture before we unmasked. Same exceptions apply: if you’re in your office alone, you don’t need to mask. Why? We know masking works in preventing the spread of COVID. Vaccination also offers protection against COVID and its variants. Fully vaccinated personnel who get COVID tend to have more mild symptoms than those who are unvaccinated. Approximately 99% of recent COVID deaths are in the unvaccinated.

But an email from LeMaster that was posted on Instagram on Friday mentioned the breakthrough cases as another reason for the mask mandate:

We have additional COVID cases which we believe are the Delta variant because of the rapidity in which it spread in our ESL formation at Lackland AFB. We’ll know more once we get the typing results back. Also we’re seeing some positive COVID cases in individuals who are fully vaccinated. A little over 50% of our student population is unvaccinated, we cannot risk a run of COVID through our student population, What we are seeing is COVID positive individuals, who are fully vaccinated, are not as sick as those unvaccinated. Vaccination offers protection against COVID. With the information that we have now, vaccination, plus masking, is the safest posture.

Breitbart News has reached out to the Army to confirm the authenticity of the email.

An Army spokeswoman said:

Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, Commander, U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence (MEDCoE) issued guidance July 18 for all MEDCoE personnel to return to wearing masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

He made this decision out of an abundance of caution based on an increase in the local positivity rate and a slight increase in COVID cases within the command. The mask order is another layer of protection against the Delta variant that has a greater chance of rapid spread among our trainees. Our primary focus remains on protecting our student population, our workforce, and their families, while ensuring soldier readiness and protecting the Army’s training pipeline of qualified medical personnel.

The new mask mandates are a step back from earlier this year, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance on May 13 asserting fully vaccinated individuals did not need to wear a mask and the Pentagon that same day dropped its mask mandate for the fully-vaccinated.

Texas lifted its mask mandate in March 2021, and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) signed an executive order prohibiting local governments from enacting their own mask mandates, although a judge sided with Austin when the city refused to lift its mask mandate, according to Forbes.

However, as coronavirus cases have gone up, more cities have begun requiring masks indoors, renewing debate over the efficacy of masks and mask mandates.

While the CDC has not issued new guidance for mask-wearing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday the administration would follow it should it do so.

“We’re always going to follow the guidance of our medical and health experts,” she said.

There is also continued debate over the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines as more “breakthrough” cases of vaccinated individuals contracting coronavirus have appeared. Proponents of the vaccine argue that coronavirus symptoms are less severe with the vaccine. Opponents of a mandatory vaccine argue that those with natural immunization — such as from having the virus and surviving — do not need to be vaccinated or be forced to wear masks.

Military commanders cannot mandate troops get the coronavirus vaccines, since they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but Pentagon officials say once they are approved, they will explore that option.

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