According to a Defense Department release, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has tested positive for COVID-19 and is exhibiting mild symptoms.
“I have informed my leadership team of my positive test result, as well as the President. My staff has begun contact tracing and testing of all those with whom I have come into contact over the last week,” Austin, the first Black Defense Secretary, said in a statement.
Austin said he last met with President Joe Biden on Dec. 21 and tested negative that morning. He added the last time he was in the Pentagon was last Thursday where he briefly met with his staff in a socially distanced setting, and everyone in the meeting was wearing a face mask.
The defense secretary said he will quarantine at home for the next five days “in accordance with CDC guidelines,” and “plan to attend virtually this coming week those key meetings and discussions required to inform my situational awareness and decision making.”
The agency recently shortened the recommended time people should isolate themselves after testing positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to five days if they don’t have symptoms and if they wear a face mask around others for at least five more days.
In his statement, Austin also touted vaccines and their benefits in protecting people from severe illness.
“As my doctor made clear to me, my fully vaccinated status — and the booster I received in early October — have rendered the infection much more mild than it would otherwise have been. And I am grateful for that,” Austin said.
In August, the Pentagon mandated all US military service members get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, a handful of Republican governors have pushed back against the mandate for National Guard members in their states. A federal judge recently denied Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt‘s request to halt the vaccine mandate. The Marines have also discharged more than 200 members for refusing to get vaccinated.