My Coast Guard

The pandemic doesn’t take holidays off: Here’s how to stay safe

By Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy, MyCG Staff

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The holiday season always brings the lure of travel, whether that means visiting family, or your family visiting you. But holidays do not mean the pandemic has gone away. 

We still need to follow CDC and Coast Guard guidance to decrease the chance of becoming infected and spreading COVID-19.

The best way to keep everybody safe is to stay home and not participate in extended family gatherings until after the pandemic. This is especially true if you have high-risk family members.

If you do decide to have a big family gathering, you can mitigate the infection risk by applying the Coast Guard’s Restriction of Movement (ROM) workplace guidance to your family gathering. Some suggestions:

  • If extended family members are not part of your immediate family bubble, they should be treated as potentially COVID positive.
  • Family members can self-quarantine prior to big family holiday events
  • Wear PPE like N-95 masks during travel. Please be aware that many airlines have banned mask with exhalation valves. 

Remember, testing is not a substitution for ROM.

Here are additional guidelines to keep in mind in the coming holiday months, based on current Coast Guard and CDC policy.

  • Avoid traveling with people, or visiting people, who are ill or at higher risk of COVID-19 complications from infection. Many forms of travel require spending time in lines or with crowds, place people in contact with surfaces that are touched a lot, and provide seating that may not meet a socially distanced standard of six feet, potentially for many hours. Always wear a face-covering while in public places and prepare food and water for your trip, especially non-perishables, in case restaurants or stores are closed. Carry alcohol-based (min 60%) hand sanitizer and surface cleaners. Know the pandemic precautions taken for your chosen lodging. Use cashless payments and touchless delivery wherever possible. You can find CDC guidance on staying safe while traveling.
  • Stay informed. Know the disease transmission information within your community as well as the places you plan to visit. Avoid non-essential travel to areas with high or growing positive case rates. Try to avoid areas that are experiencing limited or strained medical capacity. A useful rule of thumb is to look at an indicator called “test positivity,” which is the percentage of all COVID-19 tests performed in a particular county, which come back positive. This is most meaningful when viewed as a trend within a seven to 14 day window. A lower number is better, ideally less than two percent positivity of all tests for a jurisdiction will be positive. You can find your local testing numbers from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

COVID-19 Travel and leave policy

ALCOAST 396/20 COVID-19: Travel and leave policy - update 3 

Domestic/Non-foreign Travel. 

All members must be aware of changing conditions in locations they intend to travel to and through when making travel decisions, whether that travel is local or across the country. The best way to access travel information is through the state, local, tribal, or territorial public health authorities. The CDC maintains a link to all state and territorial health departments. 

Current travel restrictions

  • Local travel: Military members, including reservists on active duty, are authorized local travel while on leave or liberty. A unit’s commanding officer or officer in charge (CO/OinC) determines the local leave radius, aligning state and local jurisdictional posture. If you plan to travel outside of the determined area while on leave or liberty, you must discuss your plans and receive approval from your CO/OinC or first O-6/GS-15 in your chain-of-command. When considering requests to travel beyond the local area, commands should weigh all risk factors, including state and local government posture at the destination, mode of transportation, planned activities, lodging, and precautions taken by the requesting traveler. Remember to follow CDC guidelines for safe interactions in public whenever on leave or liberty. And remember to follow CDC travel advisories that provide information about travel conditions.
  • Foreign travel 
    • Active duty: Foreign travel is currently not authorized for Coast Guard members, and is not advised for Coast Guard civilians. However, in extenuating circumstances, members may request a waiver, with final approval authority at the first flag officer/SES in their chain of command. For personnel stationed overseas, follow the guidance of the cognizant DOD/CCMD or DOS/COM, as applicable. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is issuing Travel Health Notices (THNs) for impacted locations. A list of THNs can be found here.
    • Civilian Personnel, Reservists not on orders, dependents, auxiliarists, and non-appropriated fund personnel (NAF). Leave or leisure travel to or through foreign countries or territories is highly discouraged. Consult the CDC and DOS travel advisory websites prior to making any decision.
    • Contractors. Contract personnel that have traveled (or plan to travel) to or through foreign countries or territories are required to notify their contracting officer’s representative.

If you plan to travel abroad, upon returning you need to be ready to abide by current CDC guidance.

Commands have discretion in determining whether members returning from foreign travel from a country with an active CDC travel advisory must quarantine. However, members returning from foreign travel must still abide by all local rules concerning quarantine when not acting in the course of their official duties (e.g., driving to work).

  • Official travel within the U.S. is authorized for essential, time-sensitive missions, understanding that the number of time-sensitive missions will increase the longer travel restrictions are in place. The unit commanding officer or officer in charge, or the first O-6/GS-15 in the chain-of-command must balance risk-to-mission and risk-to-member before authorizing official travel.
  • Reserves: SELRES and IRR. The performance of IDT and ADT-AT remain mission essential activities ensuring individual mobilization and unit readiness to respond to contingencies. However, commands are encouraged to provide maximum flexibility to their reserve members, while balancing operational readiness with exposure risk, especially those Reservists who travel from outside of the reasonable commuting distance to their units in order to minimize exposure and maximize readiness if activation is required.

COVID-19 off-duty risk management: Personal responsibility and behavior choices during a pandemic. ALCOAST 259/20

Before traveling under any circumstances, members must keep in mind that we are still operating in a global pandemic and the choices you make affect our workforce as a whole. In much of what we do, members are expected to apply operational risk management (ORM), assessing risk factors against mission gain, avoiding unwarranted risk. In off-duty risk management (ODRM), we expect members to employ a similar risk-based decision approach to their off-duty behavior.  

We expect every member to make smart, informed and responsible decisions that limit their exposure to COVID-19 in order to protect themselves, their friends, families, and shipmates to ensure our Service remains ready for the important work expected of us. All military and civilian personnel, including reservists on active duty or conducting Inactive Duty Training (IDT), must become familiar with ODRM concepts through the contents of this message and apply them at all times. 

All members are expected to become familiar with the contents and adopt the directives in the COVID-19 off-duty risk management (ORDM): personal responsibility and behavior choices during a pandemic ALCOAST 259/20.

Hardship duty pay for restriction of movement (HDP-ROM): In July 2020, the Coast Guard announced HDP-ROM as an effort to support our military members and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pay and Personnel Center is now processing these claims in accordance with the following guidelines and procedures.

HDP-ROM covers situations where members are not in a travel status, however they may be in the accession pipeline. 

For more guidance regarding HDP-ROM, please read ALCOAST 278/20, COVID-19: HDP-ROM and other pay and allowance policy adjustments. 

There is a higher risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19 when you spend more time physically interacting with others. The larger your social circle is, and the longer the duration of those interactions, increases your risk of contracting COVID-19. Talking, yelling, or singing, as well as coughing or sneezing in the vicinity of others increases the likelihood that an infected person will spread the virus. 

Indoor spaces increase the likelihood of transmission as compared to being outdoors since viral particles have less room to dissipate when out of doors. When outside of your home and work space, consider how many people, you might be exposed to within a six-foot radius or less. Equally important is calculating the duration of time you may have unavoidable close contact. As a guideline, it requires 10 minutes of close contact within six feet of an infected person to pass the disease to others. 

We all have a part to play to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our co-workers healthy through this global pandemic, it is important that you abide by established travel restrictions. If you have an extenuating situation, talk with your command. 

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