FORT LEE, Va. -- Effective today, patrons and store employees at all commissaries are required to wear face masks, as further safety measures are increased to help slow the spread of COVID-19.The instruction was released by the Defense Commissary Agency, or DeCA, and applies to all agency stores and other facilities worldwide where no local directive has yet been issued, retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, Defense Department special assistant for commissary operations, said in a statement.However, if local commanders have already issued a directive to require face coverings in their commissaries, the new order will not supersede their guidance, Bianchi said. “Many bases have already imposed this requirement, but at locations where there is no guidance, this is the protection of our employees and our customers.”This policy reinforces the commissaries’ mission as being vital to military sustainment and readiness, said Army Lt. Col. Angela Parham, DeCA’s health and safety director.“Ultimately, local commanders determine who accesses -- and what activities operate on -- their installations based on public health and emergency management concerns,” Parham said. “During this pandemic, we will continue to work with senior leaders on the ground as they make decisions on social distancing and designated shopping hours.”On April 5, the DOD released its own guidance that “all individuals on DOD property, installations, and facilities will wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain 6 feet of social distance in public areas or work centers.”“The DOD’s face-covering mandate aligns with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance to help present asymptomatic people, who may not know they’re infected, from spreading the virus to healthy folks,” Parham said.That said, Parham added that personal protective equipment is only one part of the preventive measures needed to help wind down the spread of COVID-19.“Even when you wear a mask or other face covering, it is still important to practice good hand hygiene, social distancing, and refrain from touching your face,” she added.In preparation for the guidance, DeCA officials are purchasing disposable masks and gloves for employees through commercial suppliers. Until then, store employees are wearing their own masks from materials like scarfs, bandannas, clean t-shirts or cloths to shield the nose and mouth.The commissary is not authorized or equipped to provide face masks to customers, she said.“Having the proper face coverings to enter a military facility is the responsibility of the service member or family member who wants to gain entrance,” Parham said. “A customer who doesn’t have the proper face coverings, just like a customer who doesn’t have the proper ID, will not be allowed to shop. The enforcement of unauthorized shoppers rests with the installation.”OTHER SAFETY MEASURESIn addition to face coverings on all employees and customers, Parham said, commissaries have implemented operational policies to help ensure stores remain safe in the wake of COVID-19.Some examples include installing clear, acrylic sneeze shields in commissaries at all regular checkout lanes. Also, checkout and product display areas will continue to be disinfected routinely, along with restrooms, shopping carts, and product display cases to reduce transmission risks, she said.At each register, hand sanitizer is accessible for and used by staff at the end of every patron transaction.Also, multiple actions are being enforced at commissaries, including a “no visitors” policy to limit people inside the store, prohibiting reusable bags, and early-bird hours being cut back to give staff an opportunity to sanitize and restock shelves.“We work closely with our industry partners and place product orders with them for increased deliveries to our commissaries where the need is greatest, especially overseas, to ensure product availability, particularly on items that are in high demand,” Parham said.“We are countering delays of shipboard supply containers by increasing air shipments of high-demand items to our overseas stores as needed,” she added. “We will continue to fully maintain this level of support throughout the duration of the crisis wherever necessary.”Currently, DeCA has five locations on the East Coast with CLICK2GO online ordering service. Patrons can use CLICK2GO at Fort Belvoir, Joint Base Langley- Eustis, Oceana Naval Air Station and Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. The service is also available at Joint Base and McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.Over the next couple years, DeCA plans to expand their number of locations from east to west as they unveil new business and store-front systems.But slowing the spread of COVID-19 starts at home, Parham said. For example, individuals should use basic practices, like covering their faces when they sneeze to avoid spreading germs. The biggest prevention rests on individuals themselves.“Frequent handwashing and hand sanitizing, refraining from touching the face, practicing social distancing, and staying home when you can is the best way to protect yourself and – by staying healthy – protect your family,” she said.Updates related to the commissaries can be found on DeCA's Coronavirus page.Related linksArmy.mil: COVID-19 updatesArmy News ServiceARNEWS Archive