WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has transitioned to Health Protection Condition Bravo in response to an uptick of COVID-19 cases both on and off base, the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander announced Aug. 4 during a Facebook Live town hall.
Col. Patrick Miller said the installation is experiencing a rise in transmission consistent with local and state communities, currently increasing by three to six cases a day.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data-tracker, surrounding counties have progressed to substantial and high transmission rates in the last couple of weeks.
“The transition to HPCON Bravo helps us put extra precautions in place to protect the team and protect the mission,” Miller said.
Miller said the Delta variant of COVID-19 is more aggressive and transmissible by both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, helping explain the HPCON change. The vaccine has proven 83 percent effective against the variant, and breakthrough case symptoms are typically less severe.
Although the base has entered HPCON Bravo, leadership has decided not to declare a public health emergency at this time. Greater resources and capabilities now available to combat the virus, such as proven mitigation measures, testing, accessible vaccination and hospital capacity, influenced the decision, Miller said.
“We continue to evolve and be able to arm up more of our population,” he said. “Hopefully, that gives you a little bit of perspective into my thinking as the installation commander, as it’s my responsibility to make sure that we operate, sustain, protect and defend this installation.”
The switch to HPCON Bravo modifies various base operation protocols drawn from CDC recommendations and Department of Defense guidance, including:
- wearing masks indoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees and visitors.
- no more than 50 percent of personnel working on site.
- capping large gatherings at 50 percent of room capacity or up to 50 people total.
- maintaining 6-feet physical distancing, whether indoors or outdoor.
Guidance for leave and travel has not changed, although Miller advised Airmen to stay cautious and aware of area transmission rates before traveling.
Col. Christian Lyons, 88th Medical Group Commander, highlighted key data on the new COVID-19 variant that sent the base into HPCON Bravo.
As of Aug. 3, Clark and Warren counties are tracking substantial transmission, and Miami, Montgomery and Greene counties are showing high rates. The Delta variant is responsible for about 90 percent of these cases, and about 95 percent of patients are unvaccinated. About 20 percent of on-base patients are vaccinated but showing milder symptoms, Lyons said.
Lyons reminded the base community that simple protective steps can lower the risk of contracting the virus for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
“We’re going to continue to urge you to wear a mask indoors, maintain 6 feet of physical distancing, practice good hand hygiene, optimize telework, stay home and get tested if you’re not feeling well,” he added.
Lyons encouraged both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals experiencing fever and chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea to get tested.
Fully vaccinated individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 but not experiencing symptoms do not need to quarantine. If they begin experiencing symptoms, they should obtain a COVID-19 test and isolate until they receive results.
Unvaccinated personnel who have been exposed to COVID-19 but not experiencing symptoms should still quarantine.
Community members can schedule COVID-19 tests or vaccinations through the 88th Medical Group’s screening line by calling 937-257-SHOT. Lyons reminded the base community that signing up for the TRICARE online portal will enable easy and quick access to test results.
At this time, President Joe Biden’s guidance on mandatory vaccination for military personnel and mandatory testing for unvaccinated civil servants is pending DOD consideration.
Mission Support Group
Col. Serena Morris, the 88th Mission Support Group Commander, outlined how the organization will continue to serve the mission under Bravo.
“At this time, we are not closing or further limiting any of our services,” she said. “ID cards will still be issued, gates will remain open, speeders will still get ticketed, (the Traffic Management Office) will process your household good pickups and deliveries, food will still be served and holes-in-one will still be made.”
Child Development Centers are working closely with public health and will immediately notify all parents and staff of new COVID-19 cases.
Gates will maintain their hours, but entry controllers have transitioned to contactless ID scanning. As they approach the entry controller, personnel should hold out their card for barcode scanning and flip it over to the photo side for examination once they hear the scanner beep.
Airmen’s physical fitness assessments will continue outdoors whenever possible.
The 2021 Air Force Marathon is still slated to be held both virtually and in-person, but the community should continue to check the Air Force Marathon Facebook page for updates, Morris said.
Greg Leingang, 88 ABW Vice Director, helped clarify HPCON Bravo’s implications for telework.
Since a public health emergency has not been declared, supervisors do not have the authority to direct employees to telework. However, Leingang encouraged supervisors to use existing telework guidance within their work centers to reach HPCON Bravo’s manning limit of 50 percent in-person employees.
“In general, you’re going to have the flexibility you need with regular telework and situational or ad hoc telework to reach those staffing goals for your office to maintain physical distance,” Leingang said.
“Disruption always allows us new opportunities. I want to encourage everyone to look at this time of disruption and recognize the opportunity that it provides us to think about work differently, consider where telework is possible and how it might be optimized here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”
Leingang encouraged supervisors and employees to consult together about their work center’s unique telework requirements, documentation and options.
Closing out the town hall discussion, Miller reminded that each individual plays a role in the ongoing “battle” against COVID-19.
“What can you do on the front lines in the fight that we are in today?” Miller asked. “We need to start arming up again, and that’s what we’re doing with HPCON Bravo. One exit strategy to get back out of Bravo is to follow those fundamental mitigating measures.”
To watch the Aug. 4 Facebook town hall, visit www.facebook.com/WPAFB.