Stricter COVID protocols including masks and social distancing return to Eglin and Tyndall
EGLIN AFB — Mask-wearing and other public health protocols are again in effect at Eglin Air Force Base and other local military installations under guidance from the Department of Defense (DoD) for military facilities in areas of "substantial or high community transmission" of the coronavirus.
The Delta variant, a more infectious version of the coronavirus, has been spreading in Florida recently. The spread comes just weeks after the state of Florida stopped providing daily reports on the status of coronavirus and its individual counties in favor of weekly tallies.
Eglin and Hurlburt Field in Okaloosa County and Tyndall Air Force Base in Bay County have now moved to the DoD's Health Protection Condition (HPCON) Bravo, according to social media posts and other announcements from the three bases.
In the absence of detailed state data, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that as of Tuesday, the number of COVID-19 cases was up by 25% or more from the previous week in Okaloosa and Bay counties. The statistics are the same for adjacent Walton and Santa Rosa counties, where many people who work at the three bases live.
The CDC data also show dozens of reported COVID-19 cases in each of the four counties for the period of July 21-27, the latest data available as of early Thursday afternoon.
HPCON Bravo is the third-most-serious step in the five-step HPCON system. In connection with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, HPCON Bravo recognizes that a given area is experiencing "an increase in community transmissions," according to the DoD.
Under HPCON Bravo, the DoD calls for those at military installations to practice social distancing, avoid unnecessary travel (particularly to areas experiencing high transmission of the coronavirus), and to observe local guidance on movement restrictions and access to a particular military base.
At Eglin, the transition to HPCON Bravo instituted Thursday entails mandatory wearing of masks in indoor settings for all personnel, regardless of vaccination status.
Additionally, the return of HPCON Bravo to Eglin brings the base back to an "official business only" posture. However, in the news release announcing the direction from commander Brig. Gen. Scott Cain that the base return to HPCON Bravo, Eglin noted that "(m)aximum use of telework to reduce the footprint here is highly encouraged. Meetings and other events should be conducted virtually to the maximum extent possible."
The news release also notes the Eglin personnel are asked to "consult with their commander, director or supervisor for specific mission-essential clarification."
"Continued vigilance in combatting the rapid spread of this virus and its variants is essential," Cain said in the news release.
At Hurlburt Field, headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command, the return of HPCON Bravo includes the required wearing of masks by all unvaccinated people on the installation.
Beyond the conditions of HPCON Bravo, there "are currently no changes to base operations or facility access," although teleworking is authorized when possible, Col. Jocelyn Schermerhorn, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, the host unit at Hurlburt, announced Thursday via her commander's Facebook page.
Schermerhorn said the move to HPCON Bravo is "based on negative trends in the safety and health conditions on our installation and in the surrounding community associated with COVID-19."
Additionally, Schermerhorn urged personnel to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
"COVID-19 vaccines remain readily available and I encourage everyone to get the vaccine at your earliest opportunity," she said in her Facebook post.
In announcing its return to HPCON Bravo, Tyndall noted via social media that its move to the stricter status means that "(e)ffective immediately, all DoD service members, federal employees, onsite contractor employees, retirees and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask while in an indoor setting" on the installation.
Social distancing of at least 6 feet between people now also is mandated at Tyndall, according to its social media announcement.