As the coronavirus outbreak and its associated COVID-19 respiratory illness continue to spread across the country, local military installations are stepping up their efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
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EGLIN AFB — "Several" Eglin Air Force Base personnel have been screened for coronavirus and the associated COVID-19 respiratory illness as of late last week by installation medical personnel, but none have shown signs of the illness that continues to all but lock down the country.
That announcement from Eglin AFB came shortly before the Department of Defense instituted a halt to all domestic military travel, including permanent changes of station and temporary duty travel. The ban became effective Monday and will remain in place until May 11.
"The 96th Medical Group, in close coordination with the Florida Department of Health and the CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), has screened several individuals from Team Eglin, mostly out of an abundance of caution. All of those cases to date have returned negative," Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing, the host unit at the sprawling Air Force base, said in a Friday update on the installation’s response to coronavirus.
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In addition to its Air Force units, Eglin AFB also hosts units from other services, including the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal, the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the Army’s 6th Ranger Training Battalion.
Steps also have been taken at the base hospital to address individuals who exhibit symptoms of coronavirus, and to shield hospital personnel and others from the virus, Cain noted in his update.
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"We have ... established and tested procedures for intake, examination, isolation, and care for patients with COVID symptoms," Cain said, adding that the base hospital has "also implemented screening and other measures at the Eglin Hospital to protect beneficiaries and staff ... ."
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On an installation-wide basis, Cain said he is "communicating with all of the Team Eglin leadership daily as the situation changes."
In the meantime, Cain told Eglin personnel, "personal preventative measures continue to be essential to limiting the transmission of the virus."
Public health professionals have repeatedly stressed the need for frequent hand-washing, shielding of coughs and "social distancing," or staying at least six feet away from other people, as means of helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Along those lines, Cain said he is "ordering strict hygiene for common use facilities, such as gyms and dining facilities."
Meanwhile, at nearby Hurlburt Field, headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command, Col. Michael Conley, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing — the host unit at the installation — updated personnel on coronavirus and COVID-19 over the weekend via Facebook.
In a Sunday post, Conley told Hurlburt Field personnel that the installation would operate as normal on Monday. But he also indicated that changes to installation operations will be forthcoming.
Conley told personnel to "expect and plan for a lot of changes and cancellations in the coming days and weeks." The commander was slated to meet with base leadership on Monday to develop a list of events "that will be canceled or rescheduled."
According to Conley, "none of the local bases have had anyone test positive for COVID-19," nor have there been "any confirmed positive cases in the community near Hurlburt Field."
Earlier this month, an elderly COVID-19 patient died in neighboring Santa Rosa County following an international trip.
Also via Facebook, Conley told Hurlburt Field personnel that installation leadership is "in close communication with Eglin leadership and our local community partners" regarding the ongoing response to coronavirus and COVID-19.
Additionally, Conley said, Hurlburt Field "will be in lock-step" with ongoing coronavirus response guidance from the Department of Defense, Special Operations Command and U.S. Northern Command, which assists non-military authorities in this country, Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.
Locally, Conley said, Hurlburt Field leadership "is prepared for more serious conditions" with regard to COVID-19 and will "be ready to quickly flex to a further increased posture as required."