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COVID-19 adversely affecting missions at Eglin AFB

Jim Thompson
jthompson@nwfdailynews.com
Northwest Florida Daily News

EGLIN AFB — The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is adversely affecting missions at Eglin Air Force Base, a situation that “can’t continue,” the installation commander said in his latest weekly Facebook message to the base.

“We have mission impacts this week that are worse than we’ve had before, and we can’t continue to have those impacts,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing. Because the 96th Test Wing is Eglin’s home unit, he is also the installation commander.

Cain didn’t go into specifics with regard to impacts on the base’s missions — at least some of which likely are classified, according to base spokesman Andy Bourland.

Broadly speaking, the 96th Test Wing serves as “the test and evaluation center for Air Force air-delivered weapons, navigation and guidance systems, command and control systems, and Air Force Special Operations Command systems,” according to a fact sheet on the wing’s work.

Additionally, Eglin hosts the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Munitions Directorate, which develops technologies for future air-delivered munitions; the 53rd Wing, which is responsible for operational testing and evaluation of new equipment and systems proposed for use by combat air forces, and the 33rd Fighter Wing, which trains F-35 Lightning II pilots and maintenance personnel.

On the base, Eglin has addressed COVID-19 with strict attention to wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and being watchful for initial signals of illness.

In his Facebook message, Cain signaled a toughening attitude toward those approaches, telling installation personnel, “We have in our hands the power to stop any transmission that happens in the workplace at Team Eglin. While we still may have and will haves cases of COVID-19 in our workforce, we need to be very disciplined and strict in how we stop that from transmitting to any of our teammates here at Team Eglin.”

“And,” Cain continued “... we’re going to make that happen at Eglin.”

Cain also signaled that the wider community, and the airmen and their families who interact with that wider community, have roles in working to slow the spread of COVID-19 and limiting its effects on Eglin AFB missions.

“..(W)e also need our families to be safe out there,” Cain said, noting an increase in the number of Eglin personnel’s family members contracting COVID-19 “and bringing that back to home, and affecting our military members and their ability to get the mission done here at Team Eglin.”

The commander — who according to Bourland has spoken to local elected officials and other community leaders about controlling COVID-19, letting them know how the base is working against the pandemic — also said via Facebook, “In the community, we still have a concern with the spread of COVID-19, and we need the community to help.”

“I’ve asked before, and I’ll ask again, for our community to help us stop the spread of COVID-19,” Cain continued. “The mission impacts that we’re receiving as a result of (COVID-19) cases continue to increase, and we ask for our members to be safe in the community, and for our community to help.”

According to state data as of Friday, just 12 positive COVID-19 cases have been recorded as originating on Eglin AFB itself, although the base has seen a steadily upward trend since April, when just a single COVID-19 case was listed as originating on Eglin AFB.

Meanwhile, In Okaloosa County, which hosts the central portion of Eglin AFB, positive COVID-19 cases have more than quadrupled in just the last month.

As of June 19, according to state data, the county had reported 391 positive COVID-19 cases; as of Friday, that number stood at 1,698 positive cases.