In a statement released Sunday evening, Austin said he took the test after “exhibiting symptoms” related to the fast-spreading virus. He described his symptoms as mild and said he was working with his doctors to limit any health complications.
“Stemming the spread of this virus, safeguarding our workforce and ensuring my own speedy and safe recovery remain my priorities,” he said. “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 [related to his military leadership role]. Deputy Secretary [Kathleen] Hicks will represent me as appropriate in other matters.”
Austin said he had informed the president of his diagnosis on Sunday. The pair have not been in the same room since Dec. 21, a week before Austin said he felt any symptoms of the virus.
The White House did not provide any immediate statement on the diagnosis.
Austin said he received both the COVID-19 vaccination early last year and a booster shot in early October. He said doctors told him that “my fully vaccinated status … have rendered the infection much more mild than it would otherwise have been. And I am grateful for that.”
All active-duty troops and federal civilian workers were required to get coronavirus vaccines last year in an effort to limit the spread and severity of the virus. Defense officials have also said they are considering mandating the booster for all troops, but have not yet made any final decisions.
Austin re-emphasized his support for the shots in his statement Sunday.
“The vaccines work and will remain a military medical requirement for our workforce,” he said. “I continue to encourage everyone eligible for a booster shot to get one. This remains a readiness issue.”
Austin is not the first Cabinet-level official in the Biden administration to test positive for COVID-19, nor the first senior Pentagon official.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tested positive in late October, and in November 2020, Anthony Tata, who was serving as the undersecretary of defense, tested positive.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.