A few of the rigid standards of the U.S. military are being eased with each passing day of the coronavirus outbreak, and for some sailors, one change could have a visible effect: They may be able to have longer hair.
On Wednesday night, the Navy announced that it was giving commanding officers discretion to temporarily relax grooming guidelines for men’s and women’s hair length to help maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.
The existing guidelines required men’s hair to be no longer than four inches, and said that it could not touch the ears, collar or extend below the eyebrows when headgear was removed. For women, their hair could not fall below the lower edge of the back of their collar.
“Commanding officers may allow for additional hair length and bulk on the sides, top and back of the head,” Vice Admiral John B. Nowell, the chief of naval personnel, said in a message to sailors on Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear if the other branches of the U.S. military were loosening their guidelines on hair length. Requests for comment left for the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard were not immediately returned.
The change does not apply to facial hair shaving requirements, sideburns or hair style, according to the Navy, which said that shipboard barbershops would continue to operate under rules set by commanding officers.
“At no time will relaxed grooming interfere with the proper wearing of Navy head gear, nor present an unprofessional appearance in uniform,” Vice Admiral Nowell said.
Also on Wednesday, the Navy announced that it was canceling the physical fitness assessment cycle that had been scheduled for the spring, and that it would delay advancement exams to try to mitigate the spread of the virus.
The precautionary measures came after the Navy announced that there had been at least eight coronavirus cases, including four on ships, the website Military.com reported.
“This is a unique situation that calls for a unique response,” Paul Rosen, acting director of the 21st Century Sailor Office, which oversees physical readiness policy for the Navy, said in a statement on Wednesday. “We know the coronavirus is highly contagious, and unnecessarily increasing the risk of infection due to the close physical proximity required to complete the PFA is not in the best interest of our Sailors or our overall mission readiness.”