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Half Of States Where Pentagon Lifts Travel Ban Have Rising Coronavirus Infections

Despite tracking data indicating new coronavirus infections are on the rise in 23 states, the Pentagon on Friday announced it is lifting pandemic-inspired travel restrictions for U.S. military personnel in 46 states, as well as in the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.

Among the states deemed fit for a resumption of travel by military personnel is Arizona, which has had a sharp spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, as well as others with notable recent upticks in infections, including Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma.

The Pentagon's own guidance for lifting restrictions stipulates that a state must show a "14-day downward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases or positive tests," as well as having had its shelter-in-place or other travel restrictions lifted and showing what the Department of Defense describes as a "14-day downward trajectory of flu-like and COVID-19-like symptoms."

Only four states - California, North Carolina, Florida and Minnesota - are not included in the loosening of travel restrictions by the Pentagon. One of them — Minnesota — is among the 27 states where the number of newly detected COVID-19 infections has been declining.

The Pentagon memo announcing the change in travel rules does not explain the discrepancy between its criteria for easing restrictions and the approval for doing so in many states that appear not to have met those standards.

A missive issued May 22 by Defense Secretary Mark Esper states that the Department of Defense is following the White House's "Opening Up America Again" guidelines as well as data from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The pandemic forced the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to dock for weeks in Guam to recover from an outbreak among its crew, while training exercises for Army recruits have been put on hold.

According to the Pentagon, 8,824 members of the U.S. military have tested positive for COVID-19. Of them, 230 have been hospitalized and three have died.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.