By Ms. Kathy Alward, Staff Writer
On Saturday, March 14, 2020, the United States Air Force (USAF) and U.S. Space Force (USSF) responded to the National Emergency Declaration based on the recent outbreak of coronavirus. According to Gen John W. “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, USSF, “The World Health Organization identified COVID-19 as a global pandemic, and the President has declared it a National Emergency due to the speed and scale of transmission. Because of this [pandemic], the Secretary of Defense has directed travel restrictions for the next 60 days for uniformed members, our civilian teammates, and our family members.”
Gen David L. Goldfein, USAF Chief of Staff, emphasized, “Our approach is simple. We need to take care of each other while we protect our fellow Americans. If you show symptoms consistent with COVID-19, immediately seek medical care and evaluation.”
Air Mobility Command (AMC) has been issuing regular COVID-19 updates to the Air Force as the situation continues to change. Precautions were taken by the Air Force as early as March 10, 2020, stating that “All Department of the Air Force personnel have been directed to follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) levels for travel guidance.” Some restrictions at that time included official travel outside of the United States for USAF Academy cadets and cadet candidates. Personal/leisure travel to countries with a CDC Level 2 (practice enhanced precautions) or higher rating was also prohibited. The USAF suspended family attendance at the Air Force Basic Military Training graduation until further notice. The Colorado Child Development Center at the Buckley Air Force Base (AFB), Colorado, was closed for cleaning after a family member tested positive by the state for coronavirus.
On March 12, 2020, modifications were made to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and prioritize the health and safety of Air Force personnel after an active-duty Airman assigned to Altus AFB in Oklahoma, and who had also traveled to Seattle, tested positive for coronavirus. In addition, a contractor at Moody AFB in Georgia also tested positive for the virus. Cancellations included the air show scheduled for March 28–29 at March Air Reserve Base, Riverside County, California; family members were not allowed to attend Air Force Basic Military Training graduation at Lackland AFB, Texas, until further notice; and the USAF Academy in Colorado closed its campus to visitors even during home football games. Although the Air University Officer Training School at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, will continue individual commissioning ceremonies, the USAF suspended the presence of guests at the awards ceremony and the graduation parade.
The USAF made additional modifications on March 13, 2020, to minimize the spread of COVID-19, including the suspension of all outreach activities and support of community events through May 15. In hopes of maximizing the chances of the senior class graduating on time, the USAF Academy began dismissal of a large segment of their cadet population. Military treatment facilities around the world began sending potential COVID-19 samples to The USAF School of Aerospace Medicine Epidemiology Laboratory (USAFSAM Epi Lab) at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. The Epi Lab will then send the samples to the Epi Reference Lab or local public health lab to conduct the CDC-approved test. Tests must then be confirmed as positive or negative by the CDC with strict guidelines. All information from the tested samples is entered into the appropriate medical system by the USAFSAM Epi Lab for medical decision-making, and daily updates are sent to the Defense Health Agency (DHA) for oversight.
A public health emergency was declared on March 16, 2020, due to the evolving threat of COVID-19 for Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, along with various counties throughout the state who were in similar emergency situations. The Commander of the 11th Wing and Joint Base Andrews, Col Andrew Purath, said, “Declaring a public health emergency on Joint Base Andrews allows us a proactive approach to protect the safety and health of our Airmen and the surrounding community. Our top priority remains mitigating the effects and potential spread of this coronavirus.” The emergency order, which can be terminated or extended as required, is in place for 30 days. Also, as of March 16, 2020, Travis AFB, California, was monitoring two positive cases of COVID-19, while both Moody AFB, Georgia, and Maxwell-Gunter AFB, Alabama, were each monitoring one positive case of COVID-19.
AMC headquarters at Scott AFB, Illinois, implemented precautionary measures such as teleworking and staggering shifts to reduce exposure while ensuring mission-essential operations could still be executed. These measures will continue until the risk decreases. COVID-19 developments that may affect Scott AFB will be monitored by an Operational Planning Team to be sure that necessary measures are implemented to protect the health and welfare of the installation’s community. “We will continue to do everything possible to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 to ensure we continue providing rapid global mobility operations in support of the Joint Force and our partners and allies,” said Gen Maryanne Miller, Air Mobility Command Commander.
Travel restrictions due to the coronavirus are regularly updated based on presidential proclamations and, as of March 16, 2020, included certain travel restrictions for entry to and from China, Iran, South Korea, United Kingdom, Ireland, and the European Schengen area. The CDC raised England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland to level 3 warning to avoid nonessential travel due to widespread, ongoing transmission.
As of Friday, March 20, 2020, the first coronavirus cases inside the Pentagon were announced by the Air Force for an active-duty Airman and Air Force contractor who both visited the building in recent weeks. To continue executing rapid global mobility operations combatting the coronavirus outbreak, the Air Mobility Command transported members of the U.S. women’s football team from Honduras to Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.
An 86th Airlift Wing C-130J Super Hercules out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, in coordination with the Department of State and the Italian government, transported 10 En-Route Patient Staging Systems (patient holding/staging beds or ERPSS) to the Italian Ministry of Defense Aviano Air Base, Italy, on March 22, 2020. The ERPSS can support up to 40 patients in a 24-hour period.
AMC announced on March 23, 2020, that Space Available travel aboard Air Mobility Command and contracted aircraft had been temporarily suspended through May 11, except for specific category I, IV, and VI travel.
“We will continue to post the latest information and keep everyone informed. You’ll know what we know. Let’s tackle this challenge as we do all challenges which confront us,” said Raymond. “Thank you for your continued service and your professionalism. Fight’s On,” added Goldfein.
Please reference the following website for Air Force related updates concerning the new coronavirus: https://www.af.mil/News/Coronavirus-Disease-2019/