The military will stop recruiting applicants who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a proposal in a memo from the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM).
The contents of the memo, which has been circulating on the internet, were confirmed to Newsweek by the Pentagon, which described them as “interim guidance.” The story was first reported by the Military Times.
“During the medical history interview or examination, a history of COVID-19, confirmed by either a laboratory test or a clinician diagnosis, is permanently disqualifying,” the memo reads.
Additionally, the memo lays out guidelines for handling possible and confirmed coronavirus cases in applicants. It says any applicants at any of the 65 nationwide Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) should be evaluated for possible coronavirus infection, most likely through a temperature check and questions about their symptoms and possible contact with infected individuals.
If an applicant seems likely positive for the coronavirus, they can return to the MEPS if they’re symptom-free after 14 days. Anyone who tests positive through a lab test or clinical diagnosis can return to MEPS 28 days after their diagnosis.
However, their application will be marked as “permanently disqualifying,” and while applicants can request a waiver the memo offers no further guidance for possible COVID-19 exceptions, meaning that “a review authority would have no justification to grant a waiver,” says the Military Times.
This ban applies uniquely applies to coronavirus survivors while allowing applicants with histories of other viral, non-chronic illnesses to enter the military.
The ban may also result from limited research on COVID-19, as there’s still much that’s unknown about the virus, the permanence and assessment of its damage on the lungs and body, whether the virus can reemerge in those who’ve seemingly recovered from it, and whether prior infection makes a person more immune or susceptible to catching it again.
The memo also arrives just as military recruiters prepare to face an onslaught of students deciding their post-graduate summer plans or evaluating whether to return to school in the fall.
Newsweek reached out to the Department of Defense for further information. This story will be updated with any response.
While the Pentagon keeps secret the number of coronavirus cases in the military, data from the Defense Department indicates over 6,500 coronavirus cases at more than 150 bases in every state in the United States, except Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota and Montana. National Guard forces in at least 20 states have also reported cases.
It’s unclear if the military will dismiss these service members once they recover from coronavirus.