A Maryland congressman sent a letter to the top Marine Tuesday asking the Corps to relax grooming standards in the wake of videos showing Marines standing in long lines waiting for haircuts as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., urged Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger to “consider temporarily relaxing grooming standards" across the Corps to protect barbers, hairdressers and Marines due to COVID-19 concerns.
Raskin said the haircut policy has been raised with his office by a number of concerned Marine families. Raskin said he believed the families had a “compelling point” to relax grooming standards.
“At a time when social distancing has been imposed across the country and proven to be a successful public health measure, Marines are unnecessarily being put at risk of infection in order to comply with traditional grooming standards that may be optimal in an ideal world but are inessential and can be relaxed in the real world without doing any damage at all to institutional mission or national security,” Raskin wrote in the letter.
Raskin noted in the letter that civilian barbershops have already been shuttered to help reduce the spread of the virus.
Raskin also detailed that large groups of Marines have been “routinely observed congregating" around base barbershops waiting to get haircuts — going against public health guidelines that reccomended people not to gather in crowds larger than 10.
“The key problem is the necessary physical proximity of barbers and their client, an obvious and extended violation of the six-foot social distancing advice recommended by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Raskin wrote.
“It would only take one infected Marine sitting down in a barber chair, or one infected barber breathing too close to a client, to start a chain reaction that could infect a large population that forms part of our fighting force,” Raskin wrote.
Marine Corps Times has reached out the Marine Corps and Berger’s office for comment regarding the letter and did not immediately receive a reply.
The Marine Corps has come under intense scrutiny for keeping barbershops open.
Berger has empowered local commanders to make decisions with regards to potential relaxed grooming standards, closing barbershops and axing training over COVID-19 concerns.
Videos and images over the last month have surfaced of long lines at barbershops, mass formations, and commanders pushing fitness and martial arts training where social distancing is impossible to maintain.
The Corps trusts “leaders to make those calls, and we’ve given them the latitude to waive requirements where it’s not practical to meet restrictions,” the Communication Directorate previously said about barbershops remaining open on Marine bases.
“Because [COVID], like other pandemics, is different area to area, region to region, HQMC [Headquarters Marine Corps] has not said all grooming standards are relaxed for a given period of time,” the Communication Directorate previously said in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and the Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chairman, told reporters at the Pentagon April 14 that the top Marine would be getting a call over barbershops that remain open across Marine bases despite an ongoing pandemic.
At least one barbershop aboard the Marine logistics base in Albany, Georgia, temporarily closed on March 25 due to COVID-19.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.