JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Quick thinking and strong prevention techniques helped ensure a Soldier who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus here made a full recovery and did not spread the infection.
On March 8, a Soldier from 109th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Battalion tested positive for COVID-19, contracting the virus from his spouse, who had tested positive a few days earlier.
The Soldier and his spouse isolated themselves in their home off-post, checking in daily by phone with doctors who monitored their symptoms. This action likely prevented the spread of COVID-19 to other soldiers on JBLM. The affected Soldier and his spouse recovered at home and were medically cleared March 30.
“If a unit has a Soldier with symptoms, and they’re put in isolation, then they recover and don’t infect anyone else? That’s a good story,” said Col. George Leonard, chief medical officer, Madigan Army Medical Center.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate affected persons are medically cleared if they have been fever-free for 72 hours, other symptoms have improved, and at least seven days have passed since they first felt sick.
The 109th’s quick response came from measures implemented at the battalion earlier this year when one of its Soldiers was on leave in China during the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We were aware one of our Soldiers was on leave in China for the Lunar New Year (from late December to early January),” said Lt. Col. Raven Stein, commander of the 109th EMI Bn. “With everything going on in China, we began preparing for his return.”
In preparation for the Soldier’s return from China, the 109th worked closely with the I Corps Surgeon and Madigan Preventative Medicine and the Chief of Epidemiology and Disease Control, developing measures to put in place to isolate the Soldier and prevent introducing COVID-19 to the rest of the base. That Soldier displayed no symptoms and was eventually cleared of any infection, but the requests for support drove senior leaders across JBLM and First Corps to begin thinking about the impacts of COVID-19 as early as January 27.
In late-February, the 109th EMI Bn. stood up the Disrupter Health Task Force (DHTF) to develop guidelines and actions all Soldiers in the battalion could take to reduce the spread of illness, these included increased efforts to clean gym equipment and avoid handshakes and mass gatherings.
“The early actions of the 109th leadership and DHTF created awareness on JBLM and enabled action that likely reduced the number of contacts the Soldier had before he became sick,” Stein added.
The quarantine process helped the 109th leaders at all levels quickly adapt to new procedures for accountability and information sharing, creating a degree of flexibility and readiness for the wide-spread changes to come. Even the experience of working with quarantined Soldiers helped the battalion learn how a Soldier can work from home.
The DHTF continues to meet weekly to compile, publish and disseminate helpful information and resources for 109th Soldiers and families, such as new procedures for sick call.
For updates on I Corps prevention measures and how the COVID-19 response affects JBLM, visit the JBLM COVID-19 site.