WASHINGTON — The Defense Department has begun barring the enlistment of would-be military recruits who have been hospitalized for the coronavirus, unless they get a special medical waiver.
A defense official told CNN that the guidance is being put into place because there is little understanding about the long-term effects of the new virus.
“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 ...,” reads a memo from the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM). It's currently circulating on social media.
Military Times, who first reported the news, confirmed with Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell that the memo is authentic.
The memo gives guidelines on how to deal with COVID-19 cases, starting with an initial screening.
The screenings include taking temperatures and answering questions about symptoms and potential contact.
"During the screening process, a reported history of confirmed COVID-19 will be annotated ‘Considered disqualifying,'" the memo says.
If an applicant fails the screening, according to the memo, they won’t be tested, but they can return in 14 days if they’re symptom-free. Anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 will have to wait until 28 days after diagnosis before they can report back to MEPS.
Military Times says recruits can apply for waivers for all permanently disqualifying conditions, including surviving COVID-19. The Department of Defense medical waivers are usually required for a wide variety of medical conditions ranging from heart disease to a loss of vision.
It is unclear how many potential recruits could be affected by the new guidelines.
Some patients hospitalized with the virus have suffered lung damage. Long-term lung damage could hinder recruits from passing grueling physical requirements for military services.
“Residual and long-term health effects for individuals with severe outcomes, such as hospitalization or admission to an intensive care unit from COVID-19 are unknown,” the memo said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has regularly asserted that the Pentagon has been “ahead of the curve” in dealing with the pandemic, starting with his decision to begin implementing a pandemic plan on Feb. 1. Support to civilian authorities has been just one aspect of the Pentagon's response. It also has scaled back training, reduced face-to-face recruiting and largely stopped deploying new forces abroad.
These and other measures aimed at protecting the health of the force have had degrees of success, despite major setbacks such as a virus outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt that has sidelined the ship on Guam for weeks, creating turmoil among Navy leadership and taken the life of one sailor.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.