Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has tested positive for COVID-19

Austin, who spent much of his childhood in Georgia, has experienced mild symptoms and is quarantining at home

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, who has deep roots in Georgia, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is quarantining at home for the next four days.

Vaccinated and boosted against the disease, Austin asked to be tested Sunday after experiencing mild symptoms while at home on leave. He said he would retain all of his authorities, though Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks will represent him “as appropriate in other matters.”

Austin added that his staff has begun contact tracing so everyone he has been in contact with over the last week can be tested. He said he last met with President Joe Biden on Dec. 21, more than a week before Austin began experiencing symptoms. Austin said he tested negative for COVID-19 that morning.

Austin said he last visited the Pentagon on Thursday, when he met briefly with a few members of his staff. He said they were all wearing masks and were socially distancing throughout their meeting.

“As my doctor made clear to me, my fully vaccinated status — and the booster I received in early October — have rendered the infection much more mild than it would otherwise have been. And I am grateful for that,” Austin said in a prepared statement Sunday. “The vaccines work and will remain a military medical requirement for our workforce. I continue to encourage everyone eligible for a booster shot to get one. This remains a readiness issue.”

Austin was born in Mobile, Alabama. His family moved to Thomasville when he was in third grade. He graduated from the newly integrated Thomasville High School in 1971.

Commissioned an infantry second lieutenant in 1975, Austin rose through the ranks during his 41 years in the Army to command troops at the corps, division, battalion and brigade levels. He served as the Army’s vice chief of staff and led U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Austin retired from the military in 2016 before serving on the board for Raytheon Technologies, a major defense industry company. On Jan. 22, 2021, Austin was sworn in as the nation’s first Black head of the Pentagon.

On Friday, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 24,320 confirmed and probable coronavirus infections, the second-highest total of the pandemic. Hospitalizations continue to soar as well. At 3 p.m. Friday, 3,056 people were hospitalized in Georgia for COVID-19. The state is nearly halfway to its delta wave hospitalization peak of more than 6,000.

Omicron spreads faster than previous COVID-19 variants, though at least early indications are that many patients generally have less severe symptoms. Still, health officials have warned the more contagious variant could swamp hospitals amid a rapid spread.

Meanwhile, the disease has killed more than 826,000 people in the United States, including more than 26,400 in Georgia, according to the state’s Public Health Department and Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Research Center.