Austin Returns to Pentagon After Kicking Second COVID-19 Infection

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III hosts South Korean Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup for talks at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., July 29, 2022. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was back in his Pentagon office Monday after beating his second case of COVID-19.

The decision to return was made after Austin tested negative for the virus on Sunday following a workweek of quarantining at home, according to the new Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder. The defense secretary, who is vaccinated, had reported only mild symptoms after he tested positive one week ago.

Austin has steered the military through the pandemic since January 2021 and made the COVID vaccine mandatory for troops at the end of last summer. The defense secretary, who has had two booster vaccine shots, first caught the virus in January, when he also quarantined and reported mild symptoms.

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"Secretary Austin is returning to in-person work today after isolating for five days and receiving a negative COVID-19 test on Sunday, August 21," Ryder said in an emailed statement.

The defense secretary is among many federal officials and lawmakers who have had COVID. President Joe Biden, 79, caught it in July, and also reported light symptoms, but then had a rare rebound case thought to be tied to his taking the antiviral drug Paxlovid.

The virus has killed more than 1 million Americans since it emerged from China in late 2019, with the first U.S. cases reported in early 2020. The vaccines quickly developed during the Trump administration and fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration dramatically decrease the chance of serious medical complications and death from COVID.

The Pentagon has reported that about 1.9 million active-duty troops are now fully vaccinated; 95 service members and at least 417 Defense Department civilians have died from the virus during the pandemic, according to the department.

-- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

Related: Austin Catches COVID Again and Is Working from Home

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