So much for ‘just like the flu’: Coronavirus survivors are now banned from joining the military
President Donald Trump speaks during an event at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Dec. 20, 2019. Trump visited Andrews to thank service members before signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 which support the Air Force's advanced capabilities to gain and maintain air superiority and the Airmen that are essential to our nation's success. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark)

This week in Military Times, reporter Meghann Myers (the publication’s Pentagon bureau chief) discusses coronavirus screening for Americans who want to join the U.S. armed forces — and she reports that according to a MEPCOM memo posted on Twitter, a past diagnosis of COVID-19 could disqualify an applicant. Jessica Maxwell, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, confirmed to Military Times that the memo is authentic.

Myers explains that the memo from the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM) “lays out guidelines for MEPS staff to deal with potential, as well as confirmed, coronavirus cases. That starts with screening at all MEPS, which includes taking a temperature and answering questions about symptoms and potential contact. If an applicant fails 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 to report to MEPS.”

Myers adds that “upon return, a diagnosis will be marked as ‘permanently disqualifying’ for accession. Recruits can apply for waivers for all permanently disqualifying conditions, including surviving COVID-19. However, without any further guidance for exceptions dealing with COVID-19, a review authority would have no justification to grant a waiver.”

Maxwell, when contacted by Military Times, declined to comment on why a COVID-19 diagnosis would permanently disqualify an applicant even after that person has recovered. But Myers offered some possible reasons.

“Given the limited research on COVID-19,” Myers writes, “there are likely a few factors that military medical professionals are trying to hash out when it comes to recruiting survivors: whether respiratory damage from the virus is long-lasting or permanent, and whether that can be assessed; the likelihood of recurring flare-ups, even if someone has had two consecutive negative tests; and the possibility that one bout of COVID-19 might not provide full immunity for the future — and could potentially leave someone at a higher risk to contract it again, perhaps with worse complications.”

In recent weeks, there has been much discussion of the threat that the coronavirus pandemic poses to the U.S. armed forces. The USS Theodore Roosevelt, a warship in the Pacific, was recently imperiled by a COVID-19 outbreak — and on April 23, the Washington Post’s Alex Horton reported that at least 477 of the crew members had tested positive for coronavirus. One of them was Capt. Brett Crozier, the Roosevelt’s former commander.