Eglin Air Force Base has begun looking at the next stage of its response to COVID-19, which could include an enhanced focus on the base’s various missions.

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EGLIN AFB — Noting a generally downward trend in new COVID-19 cases across the area in recent days, commander Brig. Gen. Scott Cain said late last week the base is looking at entering a new phase of its response to the serious respiratory illness.


According to data from the Florida Department of Health through last Thursday, Okaloosa County, which houses the central portion of Eglin Air Force Base, has seen a general decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases since April 15, when it recorded nine new cases. That was the largest number of new cases recorded in a single day in the county, where a total of 140 COVID-19 cases have been reported since March 3, resulting in 24 hospitalizations and three deaths.


Trends are similar or better in other area counties where Eglin personnel live and work.


► HISTORIC PHOTOS: Eglin Air Force Base in 1930′s


“What we’re looking at now is ’What’s our recovery plan?’,” said Cain, who also commands the base’s host unit, the 96th Test Wing.


Cain’s comments came in a weekly update posted on the base’s Facebook page.


“ ... What we’re watching right now is the prevalence of the disease out in the local community, and certainly on base as well,” Cain said. “Right now, we’re on a good trend ... . ”


If that continues over the next two weeks, Cain said it will trigger “a set of recovery phases.”


► HISTORIC PHOTOS: Eglin Air Force Base in the 1940′s


But even while the base moves through those recovery phases, there will be a “new normal,” Cain said. The base has been operating with only “mission essential” personnel since March 31.


“It’s still quite a few weeks out there when we start to get the majority of our workforce back,” said Cain, who noted that the exact timeline will depend on the COVID-19 trend continuing downward across the area.


In the meantime, Cain said some of the operational changes made at Eglin in response to COVID-19, such as teleworking, will continue for some time for reasons beyond the immediate concerns of COVID-19.


► HISTORIC PHOTOS: Eglin Air Force Base in the 1950′s


As another example of operational changes likely to continue after the COVID-19 issue has been brought under control, Cain pointed to the 96th Test Wing’s communications squadron, which has been using a variety of digital platforms for virtual meetings.


“It’s really a whole new way of doing business and communicating in a squadron,” Cain said. “And the feedback that’s coming from the airmen is that the collaboration and communication is better than ever.”


That aspect of the “new normal” has, Cain said, “really changed how we look at what a squadron is, and how it operates, and I think that’s going to have big impacts for a while.”


► HISTORIC PHOTOS: Eglin Air Force Base in the 1960′s


But for the immediate future, Cain said Eglin will begin to focus more on executing its various missions while maintaining a focus on the measures to keep COVID-19 in check. Those include Department of Defense guidance requiring military personnel, civilian employees, family members, DoD contractors and all other individuals on Eglin property and facilities to wear masks when they can’t maintain six feet of social distancing.


On a broader scale across the entire Air Force, the service is setting a new operational rhythm that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said he sees continuing for at least a year.


According to an Air Force Magazine story on a recent teleconference with Goldfein, the general said, “What we’re looking at now is a new reset — 1 June — I call the ‘new abnormal’: Living and operating with a cyclical virus until we get a vaccine.”


► HISTORIC PHOTOS: Eglin Air Force Base in the 1970′s


“All the projections are no vaccine for upwards of a year, so that means we’ve got to refine our ability to survive and operate,” Goldfein said, according to the Air Force Magazine account.


The “good news,” Goldfein told reporters, is that the “ability to survive and operate ... is part of our DNA,” according to the magazine story.


“The Air Force has long known how to function in chemical, biological, and radiological environments, he (Goldfein) said, and the COVID-19 crisis simply means USAF will ’go back to our roots’,” Air Force Magazine reported.


► HISTORIC PHOTOS: Eglin Air Force Base in the 1980′s


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