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Defense Secretary Austin says he has tested positive for Covid-19

<i>Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has tested positive for Covid-19 and is exhibiting “mild” symptoms, according to a statement from him released by the Defense Department on Sunday.

“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 said.

Austin said he last met with President Joe Biden on December 21 and tested negative that morning. He said he was last in the Pentagon on Thursday. “I met briefly – and only – with a few members of my staff. We were properly masked and socially distanced throughout,” Austin said.

Austin said he will remain at home for the next five days “in accordance with CDC guidelines.” The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week shortened the recommended times that people should isolate when they’ve tested positive for Covid-19 from 10 days to five days if they don’t have symptoms — and if they wear a mask around others for at least five more days.

“To the degree possible, I plan to attend virtually this coming week those key meetings and discussions required to inform my situational awareness and decision making. I will retain all authorities,” Austin said.

Austin also touted the benefits of the vaccine. “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.”

“The vaccines work and will remain a military medical requirement for our workforce. I continue to encourage everyone eligible for a booster shot to get one. This remains a readiness issue,” he added.

The Pentagon in August mandated that US military service members get fully vaccinated against Covid-19. A handful of Republican governors, however, have pushed back against the mandate for National Guard members in their states. Oklahoma National Guard members must get vaccinated against Covid-19, a federal judge ruled last week, denying a request from the state’s Republican governor and others to halt the military’s vaccine mandate.

This story has been updated with additional background.

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