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EGLIN AFB -- Eglin Air Force Base officials are in regular contact with local officials with regard to strategies for handling the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.


But there may be some instances in which the base and the community will diverge in that response, according to Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing, the host unit at Eglin AFB.



“While we’ll try to mirror the posture outside the gates, our national defense can’t stop because of this pandemic,” Cain said during a Friday “virtual town hall” made available to the Eglin community via the installation’s Facebook page.


“I’m in direct contact with local officials, and we’re thinking about things that are affecting the community and the base, and trying to stay in sync with the community,” Cain said.


► RELATED: PHOTOS: Eglin Beach photos - Beyond the Gate


As one example, Cain pointed to the base’s decision to close its beaches in conjunction with decisions by the Okaloosa and Walton county governments, and the City of Destin, to close their beaches in an effort to eliminate crowding that can facilitate the spread of COVID-19.


The virtual town hall came as Eglin was learning of its first two COVID-19 cases. One of those cases is the spouse of an active-duty Eglin Air Force Base airman, and the second, unrelated case involves a 33rd Fighter Wing airman.



And, while stressing the continuation of Eglin missions in the face of the coronavirus, Cain also indicated that pursuing those missions might change in the face of the virus and its associated illness.


“My priorities are family, airmen and the future,” Cain said. “The future requires us to continue executing our mission while we protect our people,” he continued, but added, “there may be times over the next days and weeks where we have to step back from some of that mission activity.”


Beyond that, Cain stressed the need for the Eglin community to remain connected, even as social distancing, teleworking and other measures designed to impede the spread of COVID-19 take effect across the installation.


“As we disconnect to protect, let us not forget to keep track of each other,” Cain said during the virtual town hall.


In other comments, Cain said the base is not yet in a posture where access to the installation will be restricted.


But, he added, “I’m looking at options to do that” in the event of need. Restricting access to the base likely would take place in a series of graduated steps, Cain said, ranging from keeping visitors off the installation to total isolation of the base.


Currently, Cain said, the base “is a rung or two up that ladder.”


Like its civilian counterparts, Eglin AFB is currently working with a lack of coronavirus test kits, base medical leadership said during the town hall.


In other health-related issues addressed at the town hall, medical leadership noted that pregnant women who come to base facilities are being seated in areas where fewer sick patients are likely to be, and labor and delivery facilities are limiting visitors.


Precautions also are being taken at the base’s child care facilities and other youth facilities, viewers learned from the town hall. Precautions include taking the temperatures of children arriving at those facilities, and asking parents who are teleworking or otherwise staying at home to keep their children at home.


And, in another effort to reduce the potential impact of coronavirus on Eglin missions, civil service personnel no longer have access to fitness facilities, in order to ensure that airmen can be kept fit for their missions, and don’t run the risk of contracting COVID-19.


Still, there are coronavirus issues that Eglin AFB is continuing to work through, including the question of who might be declared “mission-essential” personnel if tougher steps are needed at the installation to address coronavirus and COVID-19.


Broadly speaking, Cain said that while other emergencies, like hurricanes, define mission-essential as the bare-bones staffing needed to continue base missions, a definition specific to coronavirus might include personnel necessary to sustain normal operations.


And in the end, Cain said in closing the virtual town hall, “We ... are going to make it through this crisis working together.”


► RELATED: PHOTOS: Eglin Beach photos - Beyond the Gate