WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has transitioned to Health Protection Condition Charlie in response to an increased number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, both on and off base, the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander announced Sept. 1 during a Facebook Live town hall.
Col. Patrick Miller said the installation is experiencing a rise in transmission and hospitalization rates consistent with local and state communities.
In August, the base saw 166 COVID-19 positive cases tracked by the public health team, Miller said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data-tracker, high transmission rates have continued in surrounding counties for the past three weeks.
“The decision to transition to HPCON Charlie wasn’t an easy one, but as I have been watching cases increase over the weeks, I had to make the call for the people, the team and our mission,” Miller said.
In addition to HPCON Charlie, the commander also instated a public health emergency Aug. 27 to further expand teleworking options for supervisors and work center managers.
“We have learned a lot in the past year about COVID-19; we now have several mitigating tools such as the vaccine, mask wearing, physical distancing and good hygiene to reduce risk – all those things change our calculus,” he said. “Because of this, HPCON Charlie will look a bit different than last time and allow us to continue to support secure and real-world missions. This can be accomplished by mission owners submitting an ‘exception to policy’ – but the benchmark is less than 25 percent occupancy.”
The installation will continue to maintain most services, although some may be reduced where it makes sense, to continue to allow personnel to stay social connected, Miller added.
Public health emergency
The switch to HPCON Charlie modifies various base operations protocols drawn from CDC recommendations and Department of Defense guidance, including:
- Wright-Patterson AFB is now considered a “Red” base. This will not impact leave or travel.
- no more than 25 percent of personnel working on site.
- supervisors can direct telework.
- wearing masks indoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees and visitors.
- events or gatherings are reduced to no more than 10 people, indoors or outdoors.
- maintaining 6-feet physical distancing.
- continued sanitation of workspaces.
- good personal hygiene such as handwashing and use of sanitizer.
- staying home if an employee has any symptoms of being sick.
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 Charlie.
Clark, Warren, Miami, Montgomery and Greene counties are tracking high transmission rates, Lyons said.
Lyons noted that Wright-Patt is averaging 66 COVID tests a day with 50% of people showing symptoms. In the past week, there have been 15 positive tests a day.
Medical personnel continue to remind the base community that simple protective steps can lower the risk of contracting the virus for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
“The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, your co-workers, your family and our community,” Lyons said. “I highly encourage all personnel to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and encourage you and your loved ones to watch the physicians Facebook Live vaccine information town hall from last week, which is available on the 88 ABW Facebook page.”
Lyons reminded individuals and teammates to stay home from work if they are 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. They should also get tested, regardless of vaccination status.
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 aren’t experiencing symptoms should still quarantine.
Service members, base employees and beneficiaries ages 12 and older who wish to receive the vaccine 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.
Mission Support Group
Col. Sirena Morris, the 88th Mission Support Group commander, outlined how the organization will continue to serve WPAFB under Charlie.
“Last year, we closed a majority of our services down and then slowly brought them back,” she said. “We know more about the virus so what you will see is diminished services.”
Child Development Centers will not have any change in operations, with children over 2 wearing masks. The normal fee structure will stay in place at this time, Morris said.
Changes in services
- gates will maintain current hours.
- dining facilities will be carry-out.
- education and training will be available virtually.
- Fitness centers will have reduced capacity with priority to active-duty personnel, on-base family members and base civilian employees. No retirees will be allowed at this time to keep capacity down and maintain mission readiness and safety.
- Kittyhawk Lanes and ITT Travel will remain open but by appointment only.
For more updates on hours and closures, visit www.wpafb.af.mil.
Airmen’s physical fitness assessments are currently suspended until further notice.
Vaccine Medical Exemptions
Col. (Dr.) DeWayne Lazenby, 88 MDG chief of the medical staff, helped clarify the process in which active-duty Airmen can submit for a vaccine exemption.
“For those who have anxiety about getting the vaccine, there is a medical-exemption process based only on three specific criteria,” he said.
Reasons for exemption:
- Allergic reaction – a history of immediate or severe allergic reaction to a specific COVID-19 vaccine component.
- Heart conditions – individuals with myocarditis or pericarditis after receiving the first dose of a mRNA vaccine.
- Conflicting treatment – individuals who received monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma as part of COVID-19 treatment or past-exposure prophylaxis within the last 90 days (temporary exemption only).
Lazenby said service members seeking medical exemption must fill out an 88 ABW exemption form, which can be given out by unit leadership. After the form is filled out, the service member must submit it to their primary care manager through the TRICARE Online Secure Patient Portal.
The form will be reviewed within three business days, to include a look at the service member’s medical records. Once a recommendation is made, 88 MDG will notify the service member and their commander of the determination.
Vaccine religious exemptions
Col. Kim Bowen, 88 ABW chaplain, clarified the process in which active-duty Airmen can submit for a religious exemption to not receive the vaccine.
Service members may submit for a religious exemption through their chain-of-command, he said.
- The service member must establish a memorandum that clarifies:
- nature and specifics of the accommodation requested
- specific religious basis
- comment on the sincerity of the request.
- substantial burden that would be placed on the service member’s religious expression by receiving the vaccine.
- Participate in counseling
- counseling session is required with the service member’s primary care manager.
- a final chaplain’s unprivileged counseling session is required
- Legal review
- service member’s memorandum, PCM counseling and chaplain’s counseling are submitted for a legal review to ensure all requirements have been met.
- A team will review the entire packet, which then goes to the unit commander for determination whether or not to forward to Air Force Materiel Command.
- Once a final determination is made, the decision will be sent back to the unit commander.
The decision authority for this exemption will start at the installation and be forwarded on to AFMC for decision, Bowen said.
Closing out the town hall discussion, Miller re-emphasized the importance of Airmen responsibility with mitigating tools in the ongoing “battle” against COVID-19.
“We are battling a lot of things: We are struggling with what’s going on in Afghanistan, we’re struggling with the resettling of refugees who were evacuated out of Afghanistan, we’re struggling with the chaos that Hurricane Ida delivered, we’re struggling with this ebb and flow of the coronavirus pandemic – we need to lean on each other and focus on that resiliency,” he said.
“We need to invest in it now so we can cash in on it later. You do that by reaching out and talking to others. Be a good wingman and talk to your teammates – be that shoulder they need to lean on when they need it to take off a little bit of weight.”
To watch the Sept. 1 Facebook town hall, visit www.facebook.com/WPAFB.