ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
The 28th Bomb Wing commander and command chief master sergeant recently sat down with the 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs office to answer questions from Team Ellsworth regarding the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Col. David Doss, 28th BW commander, and CMSgt. Rochelle Hemingway, 28th BW command chief, provided details and vital information to ensure everyone is informed and has the most up-to-date information. Ellsworth is currently in Health Protection Condition Charlie, which means there is a substantial disease threat to the installation, and includes preventive measures such as social distancing, maximizing telework and following stop-movement and quarantine guidance.
Q: Is Ellsworth taking this pandemic seriously, and what is the long-term plan to keep our service members safe?
Doss - Of course we are. We declared a public health emergency March 25, which provides more legal authority to help, such as additional telework and safety leave for civilians. We have implemented – and continue to implement – several measures to mitigate risk. For example, we have closed most offices, implemented telework, changed work schedules to minimize our footprint, barred visitors, implemented orders for members to not travel or frequent bars and restaurants except for carry out, and provided hygiene equipment and supplies. Additional restrictions/measures are coming.
As a combat wing, we must continue to be mission ready and do not have the luxury to just close, so we educate and mitigate risk by taking appropriate measures. If you are sick - don’t come to work. We quarantine where needed. None of this alleviates the responsibility for each person to take this seriously and do their part to mitigate risk. As our CSAF recently said, “We are not doing business as usual, we are doing business as required.”
Q: What policies and procedures have been put into place at the commissary?
Chief - Per the wing commander’s request, the Defense Commissary Agency has agreed to limit access to the commissary to active-duty personnel and their dependents during the first two business hours of each day the commissary is open. During all other business hours, anyone with commissary privileges may shop there.
To help with social distancing, everyone must have a cart and only 50 carts are allowed at a time. Commissary management is also taking steps to ration popular items. Of note, the 28th Security Forces Squadron will have a presence at opening and during the transition to help keep things orderly.
Q: Any thoughts about having volunteers from the base private orgs assist with stocking the Commissary?
Chief - We don’t intend to assist with stocking at this time. With the new measures in place restricting the number of personnel in the store at any given time, the commissary staff now has sufficient time and space to maneuver to restock shelves as trucks come in. We do ask for continued patience as scheduled deliveries for the commissary are sometimes behind due to backlog in the national supply system.
Q - What procedures do we have in place at the Child Development Center and Youth Center to protect the kids?
Doss - Chief Hemingway and I both visited the CDC and Youth Center. The number of children in the CDC and Youth Center has actually decreased, allowing more room for the kiddos to spread out. Temperatures are taken before they are allowed to enter, and any child with a fever is turned away. We had to have our temps taken as well before we were allowed back to look! The staff practices and enforces strict hygiene and cleaning protocols.
Q: What happens if we move to HPCON C+ or D? What about childcare services?
Doss - If we move to HPCON C+ or Delta, we would further restrict access to base, move from mission essential to mission critical personnel and issue other similar orders to reduce interaction and movement of active-duty personnel, civilians and dependents. Although I do not have to increase the HPCON level to enact more restrictions. With regard to childcare services, numbers of children would be reduced further to mission critical families, or we may close the CDC and Youth Center altogether, depending on how severe the local situation is.
Q: Are base housing moves – from off base to on base and vice versa - on hold until further notice?
Chief - Right now, local scheduled TMO shipments, both to the local area and onto the installation, are not on hold, and DITY moves are still allowed. Although there may be restrictions on the movement of people. Additional exemptions include separations and retirements. On-base housing moves in and out have slowed somewhat due to the stop movement order and wait lists are still being utilized. Please note, this situation is changing due to the recent ordinance passed by Rapid City. We recommend anyone with concerns about on-base housing contact Balfour-Beatty directly at (605) 923-9000.
Q: What exactly is the role of the medical group with the COVID crises? Are they staying pretty limited or trying to expand their capabilities?
Doss - The 28th Medical Group continues to provide public health guidance, primary care and other ancillary services to their beneficiaries. With respect to the COVID-19, the Med Group collects samples for testing at Air Force and other reference laboratories and monitors the status of personnel that have been placed under restriction from movement due to possible COVID-19 exposure. It should be noted, there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19 and treatments consist of supportive care (similar to when individuals have other cold and flu symptoms). If personnel are having severe difficulties breathing, they should call 9-1-1 or seek medical care immediately.
Q: What should we do if we are at high risk for this virus?
Chief - If you are at high risk for the virus, you should adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social isolation, hand hygiene and disinfecting frequently all touched surfaces. The CDC classifies people at higher risk for COVID-19 as:
- People aged 65 years and older
- People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- People with other high risk chronic conditions (such as chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised - including cancer treatment, people with severe obesity or certain underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as those with diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease.)
- Additionally, people who are pregnant should be monitored since they are known to be at risk with severe viral illness; however, to date data on COVID-19 has not shown increased risk. More information can be found at the CDC website.
Q: What are the rules on self-quarantine when someone has traveled outside the state to & from hot spots? Can you make them self-quarantine before returning to work to limit the risk of exposure to others in the workplace?
Doss - At this time, quarantine is required after returning from overseas travel (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) or cruise ship travel within the past 14 days. Additionally, individuals traveling from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to Ellsworth. Finally, quarantine is also required for close contacts of positive COVID-19 patients.
Close contact includes being within six feet for a prolonged period of time (more than a few minutes) or being coughed/sneezed on by a patient who has tested positive for COVID-19. If you have knowingly been exposed to a patient who tests positive for COVID-19, you will be notified by a Public Health official. Restrictions of movement and/or telework based on operational risk may be recommended at Commanders’ discretion. Regardless of travel history, all personnel should continue to practice social distancing.
Q: Would the Med Group consider using video calls to do well checks for newborns and toddlers to mitigate the chances of exposure?
Chief - The Med Group staff encourage keeping face-to-face well visits when your children are due for routine immunizations (e.g., 2, 4, 6, and 12-15 months). For all other well visits, we encourage either virtual encounters or elective deferment of the well visit.
Q: Is the Operations Group at Ellsworth taking this seriously? What’s the long term plan to keep your service members safe?
Doss - We have modified aircrew flight equipment procedures, maximized telework, as well as adjusted shifts to mitigate exposure risk. We cancelled an exercise, and we’ve restricted aircraft arrivals to those with official business only. Starting this week, we will close the airfield on days with no local training missions. In addition, we will adjust the hours the airfield is open and the number of training sorties to maintain required readiness. We continue to refine plans to adjust operations further based on conditions to ensure the health of our team and provide combat capability if called upon.
The flying schedule will be modified in order to balance the need to provide a combat ready force while simultaneously mitigating risk of Airmen executing and supporting the flying mission.
Q: Is the Maintenance Group taking this seriously? What’s the long term plan to keep your service members safe?
Doss - Yes, the 28th Maintenance Group is taking this seriously. Several measures have been put into place:
- We have and continue to maintain social distancing to the maximum extent possible. Leaders continually make rounds through areas ensuring social distancing and other directions and orders are followed.
- We have already split work centers and schedules up to minimize the population footprint. Flight line workers have been put on six shifts (across seven days) versus normally three shifts (across five days). We are calling this an A-B schedule where Team A is three shifts to cover from Sunday to Tuesday and every other Wednesday. Team B is three shifts to cover every other Wednesday (opposite of Team A) and Thursday to Sunday. This keeps Team A & Team B completely separate while reducing our flight line workers 50 percent, compared to the pre COVID-19 schedules. Non-flight line workers have adjusted the majority of their schedules as well. Some office workers are teleworking, spreading folks to different shifts, separate days off, etc. Production members are limiting personnel to no more than seven to the maximum extent possible inside of each vehicle.
Additionally, common use tables and chairs have been located to multiple areas to better spread out folks not actively working in order to maintain social distancing (so that too many people are not congregating in ready rooms). We have also closed the common computer labs.
We sanitize all common use tools, items, vehicles and equipment at the end of each shift or as they are turned over. Personnel are keeping workstations sanitary and spreading out as much as possible. The debrief section is sanitizing the work area after each debrief. We have ordered tens of thousands of dollars in sanitization equipment and supplies to maintain that effort.
We utilize procedures for single point of entry per work center to narrow the scope of exposure and cleaning. Common use facilities are being cleaned twice per shift. Additionally, extra portable hand wash stations and/or hand sanitizer stations are in place throughout the group.
We have and continue to eliminate and restructure meetings as much as possible (virtual meetings, teleconferences, limited personnel, etc.).
If production determines that folks are not required (no work for them on their shift), personnel are released to the flights and if not needed there, sent home as standby for the remainder of their shift to minimize the amount of people around. We are sending people home who exhibit any symptoms of illness to protect them and the rest of the population, even if the symptoms are not COVID-19 related.
Q - As the largest group on base and with a mission that doesn't lend to telework - how can MXG families be reassured there service member is safe?
Doss - In addition to all the measures, I mentioned previously, I have issued clear guidance and areas/facility types in the community under a “Do Not Enter Order” that should mitigate exposure for everyone and their families.
As a wing, we are using Facebook, e-mail, local media, word of mouth, and posting the most current updates on local radio 1610 AM to spread official information about what we are doing.
The most important part though is that every individual Airman talks with their families and continues to reassure them that we are taking steps to keep our Airmen and families safe and as healthy as possible. We all have a responsibility to express our concerns and actions with one another, as well as our families, in order to understand the important role Raider Maintainers have in our Nation’s defense.
Q: Are we putting ourselves at risk to continue to try and accomplish the mission?
Doss - We still have a responsibility as military members to be operationally ready to answer our Nation’s call. Bad people in the world continue to do bad things and we must be ready to respond to protect and defend according to the oath we all took. We will smartly mitigate risk, while still being ready to perform our duty as members of the armed services.
This is a trying time for our entire Nation. And the situation continues to change every day. Please continue to monitor our social media platforms and continue to ask questions.
Continue to monitor the Ellsworth Air Force Base Facebook page and our website at www.ellsworth.af.mil for up-to-date COVID-19 information. Graphics, videos and the website are updated daily.