JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. , March 18, 2020 —
Col. Andrew Purath, 11th Wing and JBA commander, took questions live on Facebook yesterday to address the most pressing questions on the novel coronavirus pandemic from base personnel and the surrounding community.
Purath was joined by 11th Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Daniels, 11th Medical Group Commander Col. Vito Smyth, and Ms. Robin Werner, a key spouse mentor for the 11th Civil Engineer Squadron.
The live question-and-answer session lasted about 75 minutes and covered myriad elements of the current public health crisis, mostly as they relate to JBA's response and the changes in base services/activities.
Below is a truncated and summarized transcript of the live online conversation. In many cases, similar questions and their answers are grouped together for brevity and clarity.
Why is the CDC and youth center still open, but not schools?
Purath: First, I believe I have the responsibility to provide child care to those I’m asking to come in and be the front line of this fight. The Child Development Center is to remain open here at Andrews. Maryland Governor [Larry] Hogan has requested the same thing from private providers across the state.
We are monitoring this closely and evaluating it every day. I do ask that if you’re on telework to not bring your child into the CDC. Typically, in a normal situation, [Office of Personnel Management] guidance does not allow me to put folks on a telework agreement to provide care for children at home [but in this case, you're allowed to do both].
What has changed at the gate?
Werner: I have noticed our defenders taking extra precautions for safety measures for themselves.
Purath: Last week, we adjusted to the process to have your ID card in hand to the defender who then scans it. We’re still providing security and defense to the installation; we’re just doing it a little differently.
How much of JBA is currently teleworking and are we looking to increase those numbers?
Purath: OPM guidance is that we’re supposed to maximize telework for those who can do it. It’s up to each organization on base to determine internally what that looks like. Work with your supervision if you think you should be on a telework agreement. As an installation, we’ve tried to support that where we can.
How long could telework last?
Smyth: I don’t think I have a good answer for that right now.
What should someone do if they are asked by friends, family or media about COVID-19 at JBA?
Purath: We’re posting the most current information that we have to our website, https://www.jba.af.mil/Home/COVID-19-Coronavirus/.
How are we making sure mission essential personnel such as first responders, maintenance pilots, etc. are at the lowest risk for getting the infection?
Purath: We’ve seen each mission set approach it differently, but the theme has been the same. We have pre-positioned members off-base on a two-week schedule, and as we approach the end of the 14-day period for one group we’ll bring in the next group. We’ve extended alert times across the base for our first responders.
Is there anything JBA needs help with from the community?
Purath: I’ve tried to look at the ways we can help support the community, [like] not closing the commissary or BX, making sure the pharmacy is open every day. We’ve put a lot of effort in and taken a bit of risk in some places because we owe it to the community around the base that we support every day.
Can volunteers come and help restock the shelves at the commissary or BX?
What are the best places to look for updates on the health crisis?
Smyth: The best place to look is at the [Centers for Disease Control] website, cdc.gov. It has the most current information, not only for healthcare providers but for those who receive healthcare.
How does this affect the shuttle bus to Bethesda?
Smyth: This does not affect the shuttle bus schedule. However, the bus schedule is due to end April 30.
What are the tents outside the ECC, dental, etc.?
Smyth: The tents are there to maintain a single point of entry for people coming into the med group. We want to ensure we’re allowing people to come into the med grip but also identify those who may meet the CDC criteria (symptoms, may have had recent travel or have been in contact with someone confirmed COVID-19 positive). We have a process in place to channel those to treatment.
Do you project the commissary and BX closing?
Purath: I don’t see a scenario, right now, where they would close for an indefinite amount of time. We may need to limit hours to clean or disinfect in response to an event.
Are medical appointments being canceled?
Smyth: We’re not canceling medical appointments. You may see a change in the way you’re being seen, perhaps virtually through a phone call, rather than an office visit.
Purath: I would ask the community is that if you don’t intend to come to the clinic for whatever reason, or don’t think it’s urgent enough issue that you need an appointment this month, cancel the appointment, earlier rather than later.
Is there a recommendation for wait times?
Smyth: Normally, we ask you to show up 15 minutes before your scheduled time. As measures have changed, we recommend showing up 30 minutes before.
With a number of civilian employees and retirees residing on base, will there be authorization for them to utilize the commissary, BX and Express?
Purath: Currently, all of our authorized shoppers are allowed to use the facilities. Hours have been adjusted to 0900 to 1800 to allow for extra time to restock and sanitize. Purchases are being limited on certain goods that run out of stock quickly (i.e. poultry, meat, hand sanitizer, etc.) to two per patron. During 0900-1100, only active-duty members in uniform and their dependents are allowed to shop.
This is not to give “first dibs” to our active duty members, but to give those families a bit of stress relief. I’m asking a lot of them right now, and if I have it within my authority to take a little bit of stress or anxiety out of going into the commissary, I’m going to do that.
Will the base be closed to visitors?
Purath: There are no limitations on visitors to the base. I would offer that we don’t lose sight of what we’re trying to accomplish: reduce travel.
With many of our Airmen projected to deploy, how and what does that look like?
Purath: The Department of Defense is still deploying forces and still rotating forces around the world. Additional requirements and measurements are being put in place for pre-deployment training. Keep in mind, this is a rapidly evolving situation and guidance can change.
Are college classes still taking place on base?
Purath: No. The education center is closed at this time.
Social distancing is included in Level C of the Health Protection measures. Why are different office events on base closing if we are still in level B?
Purath: With guidance from the CDC and [Office of the Secretary of Defense], we have adapted to address the current situation. The goal is to lessen the spread and lessen the impact, so every little thing that you do makes a difference in the overall impact of COVID-19 on the nation.
What does public health emergency mean and is the base going to close?
Purath: The public health emergency essentially gives me authorities as the installation commander to be a little more directive on activities on base. My bigger motivation with the public health emergency was to be more in line with our state and county partners.
There is a limited amount of tests available for COVID-19 testing worldwide, and it’s in high demand. Do you have a system in place for who gets administered the test?
Smyth: The CDC sets the testing criteria. Currently, the criteria are recent travel to a Level 3 country, contact with a COVID-19 confirmed patient, and symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath. We do have testing kits at Andrews. If a patient meets the criteria and it’s in the clinical judgment of that provider to perform a test, the swab is collected and sent to a testing facility.
At other installation pharmacies, they have allowed families to get over-the-counter medication (ex. Tylenol, Motrin, etc.). Are those available at our pharmacy for families?
Smyth: At a military treatment facility, those medications would require a prescription. If they have a prescription for those over-the-counter medications, we’ll honor the prescription. Those medications are also available off base.
Have families experienced a delay in receiving services in portions of the clinic? Specifically, immunizations for infants or children who need those.
With the declared public health emergency, should your tenant units be open for normal operations?
Purath: Until I make a decision to close the base, I’ve left those agencies to decide what their mission central workforce needs to be. I’ve been cognizant of the fact the organizations we support have a different mission set and need to tailor the response appropriately across the base. Whether that means maximizing telework, minimum manning in shops or alternating work schedules.
Will the commissary be stocking after the initial 0900-1100 opening?
Purath: They stock all day long. I absolutely want to support the community that uses the commissary. I’m just asking for a little consideration right now to help with some of the anxiety and stress of our active-duty force that we’re asking a lot of right now.
Will our Airmen who are on duty be given consideration to be released from duty to go shopping 0900 to 1100?
Purath: I expect our supervisors to make sure our Airmen have what they need.
Can we allow mission-essential personnel gym time after the normal operating hours?
CMSgt Daniels: We need to make sure we have the time to clean and sanitize and make sure that it’s safe for our military and ID cardholders.
Will we be able to self-quarantine?
Purath: If you have one of the CDC criteria, then you should speak to your supervisor about whether you need to self-quarantine.
Can members get a prescription virtually?
Smyth: There are different options: mail-order or certain off-base pharmacies. The off-base pharmacies may have a co-pay associated with them.
Are the major military hospitals in the NCR, such as Fort Belvoir and Walter Reed, fully equipped and staffed to test, diagnose and treat patients with COVID-19?
Smyth: We are in contact with the other NCR medical treatment facilities twice a day. We all abide by the same guidelines, testing criteria, etc. I think we’re all equipped to treat patients.
What do you see as a trigger point for you to close the base to everyone but mission-essential personnel?
Purath: We have gone mission-essential without [closing the base]. Those who are here at work today are those who need to be here. Realistically, I don’t think closing the base does much for us. I’m cognizant of the community and I’m not sure we want to be throwing up the gate when we see our neighbors fighting the same fight.
Can you restrict the Child Development Center to be used by mission-essential personnel only?
Purath: The CDCs are open as normal. I’m providing that capability until conditions dictate otherwise.
Can we give our uniformed members front of the line privilege for all hours at the commissary and BX and restrict the allowed items to 15 or less?
Purath: No. The BX and commissary already have front line hours during lunch. We are adjusting the hours to in-uniform only and dependents to 0900-1100.
If an active-duty member is told to self-quarantine at home, does that also include the dependents who live in the home?
Purath: I would reference the CDC guidelines.
Will those in the Exceptional Family Member Program have priority shopping even before the 0900 to 1100 at the commissary?
The Military Personnel Flight is open for limited services; what are those limited services?
Purath: ID cards by appointment, processing actions like retirements. If you’re an airman and you need something accomplished, we’ll make sure that happens at the MPF.
Is there a summary of the new base policies being put in place for reference?
Purath: https://www.jba.af.mil/Home/COVID-19-Coronavirus/ as well as https://www.facebook.com/jointbaseandrews/
How is the 0900-1100 timeframe at the commissary to be enforced?
Purath: I’ve set the expectation with the commissary staff that they will check IDs at the entrance.
Any tips from the key spouse mentor role on how we can best engage spouses and family members of our deployed airmen?
Werner: I would highly encourage continuing to look in on our families with deployed members.