Key senior leaders at Fort Knox held a Facebook Live virtual town hall March 10 to discuss concerns and mitigating circumstances surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.The event, led by Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, Garrison Commander Col. CJ King, Col. Hugh McClean, commander of Ireland Army Health Clinic, and Dr. James Stephens, chief of Preventive Medicine at Ireland, garnered more than 26,000 views and over 180 shares less than 24 hours after it aired.The hour-long video provides viewers over 20 minutes of explanation from the four leaders followed by roughly 45 minutes of answers to questions asked by those who submitted questions in advance or participated live."When we made the decision to have this town hall, it's because we wanted to make sure that we are talking to the community about the threats, real and perceived, with the coronavirus," said Evans. "I can tell you that our biggest concern right now is making sure that we don't have unnecessary fear or hysteria about what's going on here in the Central Kentucky region and particularly here at Fort Knox."Evans said his reasons for hosting the event were to provide the latest updates from the Departments of Defense and the Army on efforts being made to stop the spread of COVID-19, provide guidance on what people can do to assist in those efforts, and provide an avenue for the community to ask questions."The COVID-19 outbreak presents a health risk to all citizens in the affected areas, but there's no reason for panic or hysteria," said Evans, who cited state statistics revealing that, as of earlier the same day, there were eight reported cases of the virus in Kentucky, one of which is in nearby Jefferson County -- Louisville."However, at the time of this town hall, we have no known or suspected cases of COVID-19 within our Fort Knox community," said Evans.Evans said the installation is operating at Health Protection Condition Level A, considered a low-risk threat level. He, however, urged Soldiers and civilian employees who are expecting to move to or from Fort Knox to consult with their chains of command for the latest word on how best they can protect themselves and their Families.According to DOD Instruction 6200.03, the conceptual HPCON framework consists of five levels, from 0-D. Zero represents routine measures; whereas, Level D represents severe measures, to include restrictions of movement, quarantines and mass evacuations. Level A consists of limited measures that involve communicating symptoms of health threats.Within the purview of HPCON A, activities and events at the Army post are being scaled back, and traditional forms of cordiality discouraged."I have already directed Child & Youth Services to moderate some behavior during sports events, such as the elimination of high-fives and handshakes after a sporting contest," said Evans. "The intent in doing this is not to signal that our community is at higher risk, because it's not, but simply to get kids to start thinking about self-protective behaviors should we need to increase the HPCON level at a later date."According to Stephens, what everyone is calling coronavirus is actually a large family of viruses that includes the common cold, SARS and MERS. World Health Organization confirms this, adding that even the name novel coronavirus refers to "a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans."Stephens said treating for COVID-19 is the same as treating for a cold: keep safe, cautious and clean.He explained the difference between isolation and quarantine -- the former referring to where someone goes who actually has the disease compared to someone who has been exposed to the disease. He also explained the differences between the four risk levels: high, medium, low and no discernible risk.All of these criteria combined with rules and regulations that start at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, according to Stephens, and pass down through DA to the local level have one central focus."When it comes down to it, we have to protect ourselves and our community," said Stephens.According to Stephens, they have been forward planning for the virus as with all outbreaks in the past, with the funding, personnel, policies and equipment already in place to handle it."If you look at our cases worldwide and want to know how well we're doing, with over 110,000 cases worldwide, how many Department of Defense personnel have been positive -- three?" Stephens said. "That's less than half what Kentucky has had in the past five days. We are doing a phenomenal job, and it really is thanks to everybody from the top down."Stephens offered a few steps to take if somebody thinks they may be infected:1) Don't walk in to a clinic or emergency room; call somebody first -- the nurse advice line, clinic's triage line, an appointment line.
2) If you are sick, stay home. If you family members are sick, keep them home.
3) If you feel you need to be tested, understand that the testing available at the moment is for emergency authorization use only. Stephens explained that this means it is still in the developmental stage; not yet Federal Drug Administration-approved. There is a limited amount provided to each state. CDC guidelines determines who will be tested and when.Stephens said prevention is the most crucial driving force behind leaders' decisions.To that end, President Donald Trump announced March 11 that travel from Europe has been suspended. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear the same day instructed school districts to be prepared to close on notice as short as 72 hours, closed all state prisons to visitation, suspended out-of-state travel for state employees, urged businesses to allow employees to telework and provide paid sick leave, asked places of worship to cancel services temporarily, and asked citizens to sit further apart in meeting and work spaces.College and university presidents across Kentucky have suspended on-campus activities and are in the process of moving all classroom work to online environments."These entities are not here to stop the disease. They are here to recommend how we can stop the disease," said Stephens. "Stopping or slowing a disease process or a viral pandemic, influenza, COVID-19, or any other disease state comes down to you and me."Stephens urged listeners to do their part in stopping the spread of COVID-19. This includes washing hands thoroughly and regularly with foaming soap that contains at least 60% alcohol, coughing or sneezing in the pit of the elbow facing away from others, practice regular good hygiene to include wiping the nose with tissues and throwing them away, avoid touching facial surfaces and clean doorknobs and handles. He also offered up four steps to consider:1) Be calm and hygienic.
2) Be cautious.
3) Be clean.
4) Be safe."We have to follow the guidance to ensure that we slow down, and sometimes even stop the spread," said Stephens. "Think of your coworkers. Think of your family. Keep clean."Follow preventive guidelines so that you keep yourself, your family, and your community safe; that is how we're going to keep us out of harm's way."