The Air Force is easing up on hair length grooming standards for airmen to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said flexible grooming standards may be imposed, per the discretion of commanders as they navigate appropriate safety precautions.
Kelly made his comments in a letter first posted on the unofficial Air Force page Amn/Nco/Snco, and a spokesperson for the service confirmed the letter’s authenticity to Air Force Times on Tuesday.
“We realize our current situation requires us all to socially distance and adopt health practices that may limit access to barbershops and hair salons,” Kelly said in the letter. “As such, in these rare circumstances Commanders have the authority to deviate from hair grooming standards as needed to ensure the health and safety of our service members and families.”
But this doesn’t mean airmen have the green light to grow a beard. According to the letter, shaving and other standards related to dress and appearance have not changed.
"Deviation should be done within reason and should in no way inhibit our ability to perform our duties, wear proper uniforms and headgear professionally, or prevent the use of protective or safety equipment," Kelly said. "Shaving and other standards associated with dress and appearance remain in place."
Other services have taken similar measures to promote social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Navy announced earlier this month that hair length standards would be relaxed and commanding officers “may allow for additional hair length and bulk on the sides, top and back of the head,” according to a Navy Administrative message.
Similar to the Air Force’s directive, the Navy said the new standards “only apply to the area of the scalp.”
According to the Air Force, a total of 182 airmen have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 60 other Air Force civilians, 51 dependents, and 16 contractors. There are 673 COVID-19 cases among service members from all branches of the military as of Tuesday, the Pentagon reports.