New guidelines issued by the Department of Defense would 'permanently disqualify' anyone who previously had COVID-19 from joining the military, according to a new memo first reported by Military Times and confirmed as authentic by McClatchy's Tara Copp.
"...during the medical history interview or examination, a history of COVID-19, confirmed by either a laboratory test or clinician diagnosis, is permanently disqualifying," reads the memo - suggesting that the government isn't relying on survivors producing sufficient antibodies to clear the virus from their system and become non-contagious.
The decision comes after South Korea reported nearly 100 recovered COVID-19 patients tested positive again earlier this month, while many in Reddit's "covid 19 positive" forum have reported a resurgence of symptoms up to two months after falling ill - many of whom tested negative after experiencing a first 'wave' of the disease.
According to a defense official who spoke with McClatchy on condition of anonymity, the memo is interim guidance, and that a potential recruit may be able to move forward with enlistment if they obtain a waiver.
The new policy would mean a past coronavirus exposure would be treated the same as other medical conditions, such as hearing loss, “that are considered ‘permanently disqualifying,’ subject to a medical waiver,” the official said. -McClatchy
The new policy compounds challenges already faced by military recruiters, as COVID-19 has closed schools, malls and job fairs - prime locations to meet prospects. And according to McClatchy, the military has seen widespread shortfalls in recruiting amid the pandemic. Meanwhile, every service told McClatchy that they don't think US forces will be at full strength in terms of headcount by the end of the year.
There are officially over 1.2 million COVID-19 cases in the US, with more than 73,000 deaths as of this writing, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Nelson Lim, a senior social scientist at the Rand Corporation who has researched military personnel policy for more than two decades, said it was too early to determine the impact of the new policy, because there is still much that is unknown about the accuracy of antibody testing and immunity with COVID-19.
“We don’t have good estimates on the younger population,” and the virus impact, Lim said. “Testing is essentially limited to people with symptoms or high risk. So it is difficult to get a clear picture of the impact of this decision.” -McClatchy
According to the report, it is unknown whether the interim DoD guidance will eventually extend to active duty forces who have fallen ill from coronavirus while serving. At present, over 5,000 members of the military have officially contracted COVID-19, with nearly 1,900 of them having recovered.