JOINT BASE LEWIS McCHORD, Wash. – As coronavirus, known as COVID-19, continues its sweep across the nation and world, Department of Defense leaders and health professionals are putting out information to help keep service members, civilians and families safe.
The Department of Defense issued guidance on March 13 stopping all movement of Soldiers, civilians and their families on government-funded travel. Commands have issued orders limiting leave and pass travel to local areas, in most cases no more than 50 miles from an installation.
The Army and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued guidelines and practices to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
According to the CDC, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, and since it is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, the CDC recommends social distancing, staying at least six feet away from other people.
The CDC said that since the virus is thought to spread via airborne transmission – respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes – the droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
Regional Health Command-Pacific, headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and Hawaii, is also addressing the challenges posed by COVID-19.
In an email to region personnel, Army Brig. Gen. Jack M. Davis, RHC-P commanding general, said it’s crucial the command implement and follow the disease-prevention guidelines put out by the CDC and the Army.
“Everyone needs to remember and enforce the importance of adhering to the protocols we already have in place,” Davis said. “We will continue to ensure that our personnel have the most up-to-date information on appropriate measures to prevent the potential spread of the virus.”
Davis, a family nurse practitioner who is also chief of the Army Nurse Corps, emphasized the importance of social distancing.
“Staying at least six feet away from other people lessens your chances of catching COVID-19,” he said. “If you’ve been exposed, or think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, self-quarantine for 14 days.”
“That means, ‘stay home’,” Davis said, and “limit your contact with others.”
Another Army senior medical leader said the situation continues to evolve over time and is changing work routines at the Pentagon.
At a March 19 press conference, Dr. (Lt. Gen.) Ronald J. Place, director of the Defense Health Agency, said, “In general, we continue to use the CDC guidelines which mandates distance apart, the social distancing, as well as how long people can be in contact with each other and still have a reasonably small risk.”
But, Place said, the risk the Department of Defense faces is really the defense of the entire world.
“And so the mission that must be done, still must be done,” Place said. “So…we give advice to senior leaders about the potential risks and they weigh those risks in terms of then how they make decisions about where we meet, how we meet -- and what sort of collaboration we can have.”
CDC, DoD and Army leaders all recommend and encourage everyone to follow published guidelines to help control the spread of COVID-19:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
· Avoid close contact with people who are sick
· Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
· Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.
· Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
· Throw used tissues in the trash.
· Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
· If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room.
· If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.
· Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
· If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
The Army’s latest COVID-19 guidance can be found at www.army.mil/covid-19/.
The CDC’s latest COVID-19 guidance is found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.