Social distancing and rapid reporting are the focal points of Fort Lee’s response plan to Novel Coronavirus 2019, or COVID-19.
“The virus is spreading through human contact, so the most prudent measure is to limit that exposure by reducing public activities to the best extent possible,” observed Col. Hollie Martin, Fort Lee garrison commander. “We’re going to continue military training and base operations – that’s non-negotiable – but everything beyond that is subject to cancellation, postponement or implementation of additional safeguards.”
Employees are being instructed to notify supervisors and their health care provider immediately if they believe they have come in contact with an infected person or are experiencing flu-like symptoms. Beneficiaries of Kenner Army Health Clinic can call 1-866-533-5242.
“Do not go to the clinic or your worksite,” are Martin’s instructions to the workforce. “Call to get instructions. Leaving your home, barracks room, etc., puts others at risk of exposure.”
Count on post events that traditionally attract crowds of 10 people or more to be cancelled or postponed, Martin advised. The commanding general has restricted all military graduations to students and faculty only – no guests, including parents and spouses, may attend those ceremonies. Family visits and weekend passes are at the discretion of a Soldier’s assigned unit, and it became increasingly likely as of Monday that they will be prohibited as well.
“We understand the emotional impact of these decisions, but know they are in line with the recommendation by national health experts,” Martin said. “Furthermore, we cannot project when these restrictions will be lifted. Like the rest of the nation, we will not return to business as usual until we are confident the health of our community is no longer in jeopardy.”
In another major development over the weekend, the Defense Department imposed travel restrictions for service members, their families and DOD Civilians. It halts all domestic travel, including permanent changes of station and temporary duty movements. Only local leave is permitted, with no trips greater than 180 miles from Fort Lee.
“Stop movement means just that,” Martin clarified. “As of this past weekend, any Soldier or student who was not already at or enroute to Fort Lee is instructed to stand fast at their current location. Most active duty student graduates from our training courses will remain at Fort Lee. The commanding general has made it clear they will not be sitting idle in their barracks or hotel rooms. They will continue to engage in training and base operation activities.”
The CG has waiver authority, the colonel further noted, if an emergency situation arises that requires movement. The cited end-date for the restriction is May 11, but that is subject to change if the pandemic threat has not diminished.
Recognizing the detrimental effects of misinformation and rumor, customer service agencies here are issuing statements that verify their intent to continue operations while taking steps to safeguard the health of patrons.
“We are implementing several increased measures to help in the mitigation of the Coronavirus,” announced the manager of the child care centers at Fort Lee. “We are increasing the distance between cots during nap time. The front desk (is asking visitors to) use hand sanitizer before proceeding to the classroom. We respectfully ask that patrons monitor any signs of illness and if (they or someone they) have been in contact with has been out of the country within the last 30 days, we respectfully ask that they not enter any CYS buildings.”
The message from the Defense Commissary Agency provided similar assurances, noting the frequency of food safety inspections and routine sanitation of checkout areas, restrooms and shopping carts.
“There is no need for panic buying,” the message further stated. “If you happen to see empty shelves in the store, please be patient – (they are typically) restocked the very next day.”
To ensure fair distribution of products, some commissary locations have implemented purchase limits on high-demand items. At Fort Lee, it includes bottled water, flushable wipes and paper towels. As of Wednesday, all locations are conducting 100-percent ID card checks to ensure authorized customers only are entering the stores.
A message from service leaders has made it clear that COVID-19 is not going to impact military readiness in any way.
“The Army stands ready to defend our nation and continue to conduct operations,” read a memo signed by the secretary, his chief of staff and the Sergeant Major of the Army. “The health protection of our force is a critical priority. Our nation, our Army, our allies and potential adversaries should know that our Soldiers remain ready.
“The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command are aggressively working on efforts to prevent, detect and treat the virus,” the memo continued. “The Army has top-notch researchers and cutting-edge technology that have met national challenges before and are working with the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health to do it again. … We have a tough road ahead of us, but we will prevail.”
Other Fort Lee measures in-progress or under consideration include the following:
- The stand-up of a COVID-19 information page at home.army.mil/lee; daily advisories and updates at www.facebook.com/ArmyFortLee. These references are the best source of up-to-date information that can change hourly.
- Symptom screening for anyone entering Kenner Army Health Clinic facilities – patrons can only enter the main building through the A Avenue entrance
- Implementing telework for military and civilian employees if it will not impede their ability to complete required job functions
- Hands-free ID card checks at installation access gates
- All restaurant dining rooms are closed; food can be purchased for take-out only.
- Hunt Military Communities has suspended routine service requests in family housing until March 31; emergency work orders will still receive an immediate response
- Discontinued reuse/refilling of soda and coffee cups at Exchange food and retail facilities; a new cup must be used
- Halting religious services and activities except for those that promote the morale and resiliency of the installation’s student population.
- Daily command briefings to track reports of potential exposure and the impact of response measures
“We are going to great lengths to stay ahead of this rapidly evolving situation,” Martin pointed out. “What we need the military community to do, first and foremost, is be diligent with hygiene – disinfecting high-contact surfaces, frequent hand-washing, maintaining distance from others and making that phone call immediately if they or someone in their work group or household has symptoms of COVID-19.
“The second thing is to stay informed through trusted sources, just like we remind you to do regularly during our emergency preparedness campaigns,” Martin said. “Don’t spread rumors or fall for hoaxes and scams that are popping up on social media. If you have questions or worries, ask your chain of command or find answers in the wealth of information that’s being distributed by the CDC and other reliable national health agencies.”