An Army military police dog handler stood between two traffic cones March 23 as the staff duty noncommissioned officer at Building 1485 asked her a series of questions.
The specialist had been on temporary duty to Texas and was told she must report to the Fort Knox quarantine facility prior to returning to her unit. After satisfactorily answering questions from the COVID-19 initial screening list, the NCO gave her the all-clear.
This pre-screening process has become part of the new norm at the central Kentucky installation as senior leaders look for ways to protect the community and prevent further spread of the coronavirus. Added to that process are two buildings: one for quarantine of personnel and their families who might have come in contact with the virus; the other for isolation of those who might have contracted the virus.
Responsibility for both buildings and their operation fell March 17 to leaders from Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, U.S. Army Garrison.
“We were told we were going over there for a walk-thru at 1 p.m.,” said 1st Sgt. Jerome Pendergrass, senior NCO of the unit. “At that walk-thru, we were told that we were signing for the building and we needed to start manning it 24 hours beginning at 6 p.m.”
The buildings are normally used for Cadet Summer Training cadre during the summer months, but the fast spreading nature of the virus required that they be quickly converted into places of rest and respite for active duty Soldiers, government employees, and affected family members traveling to Fort Knox on Permanent Change of Station orders, or returning on TDY orders or from vacations.
The quarantine building, with 84 available rooms, is being manned by two Soldiers, each pulling a 24-hour shift. However, according to HHD Commander Capt. Mark Gadell the desk will soon be manned by four personnel.
“It’s going to be manned as required,” said Gadell. “If there’s just a couple of occupants, four is all that’s going to be required; but if for whatever reason drastic things occur, we’ll have to scale to take care of them.”
Gadell said units and organizations at Fort Knox have taken up the call for help, offering personnel to sit at the staff duty desk and process people.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Active-duty service members, government employees, and affected family members traveling to Fort Knox on PCS or TDY orders, or returning from vacations will report to Building 1485 East 12th Armored Division Avenue, where they will sanitize their hands and answer some questions about with whom they have been in contact, where they have been, how they feel, and whether they have concerns about possibly being infected. If responses indicated that they have not been exposed to COVID-19, they will be cleared to return to their unit or organization.
If answers warrant further investigation, they will then report to Ireland Army Health Clinic for a medical screening. If the doctor determines they may have been exposed to the virus, they will then return to Building 1485, where they will be housed for the next 14 days.
“Think of quarantine as questionable,” said Gadell. “You’re not quite sure and you’re going through that 14-day period to determine whether or not you could possibly have something.”
Pendergrass said it’s important that those who report to Building 1485 be honest and upfront about their situation, for all involved.
“This is about integrity,” said Pendergrass.
Though there are currently no confirmed cases at Fort Knox, Building 1486, with an additional 84 rooms, will isolate those whom medical experts deem as possibly infected with COVID-19.
“Isolation is when you are showing symptoms,” said Gadell.
Masks are provided for those who are sneezing or coughing when they arrive. Both Pendergrass and Gadell said the threat of COVID-19 is not airborne as much as the virus making contact with others.
“It’s passed through droplets and personal touch,” said Gadell. “If you do contact people who are coughing or sneezing or showing those symptoms, that’s the person who needs the mask — not the healthy people.”
Gadell explained that if somebody in the quarantine building starts showing symptoms of the disease, they will be moved next door to the isolation building.
“Being in isolation does not mean that they 100% have COVID-19,” said Gadell. “It just means that they’re showing symptoms.”
Upon checking into one of the buildings, personnel will have access to much of what people who are sheltering in place at their homes might have: food, laundry facilities, bedding, hygiene products courtesy of the American Red Cross, and various entertainment items.
“All the partners on post have really been going out of their way to support this effort because it affects everybody,” said Gadell.
Gadell said if there is a need for “outside food or other items,” those in quarantine or isolation are free to make purchases and have the items delivered to the staff duty desk. Staff duty personnel will then deliver them to the front door of the person who purchased them.
A high level of cleanliness is critical, said Gadell. Because of this, contractors thoroughly clean common areas in the buildings twice a day to ensure they remain as germ-free as possible for those working in the buildings as well as those living in them.
Gadell and Pendergrass are continuing to improve living conditions at the buildings, to include the addition soon of televisions in every room.
Gadell said their goal is to make personnel who may stay in the facilities as comfortable as possible while they wait out the COVID-19 pandemic; the best place potentially infected personnel can be is in one of the buildings.
“You could equate this to the same as those personnel who are self-quarantining at their house,” said Gadell. “They’re helping everyone by staying in their room and not potentially contaminating anybody else.”
Editor’s Note: Those who think they may have become infected by COVID-19 are encouraged to call the Tricare Nurse Advice Line at 800-TRICARE (874-2273); Option 1.