FORT BELVOIR, Virginia – It’s been a little more than two months since the World Health Organization declared an outbreak of a novel coronavirus, COVID-19, that began in Wuhan, China, December 2019 to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. On January 31, Health and Human Services’ Secretary Alex M. Azar II announced a public health Emergency for the United States.
Last week, the Army conducted a change of mission aimed at protecting the force in efforts to safeguard the nation while supporting global and combat operations. The Army will continually asses how best to protect Soldiers, Civilians and their families, maintain force readiness to meet global challenges and support FEMA-led national COVID-19 response.
Regional Health Command-Atlantic leaders, medical professionals and support staff understand that practicing proper safety measures are vital to saving lives and reducing the spread of COVID-19. But, just as important, they are critical to maintaining readiness of the force and providing quality, safe healthcare to their families and the retirement community within U.S. Army Medical Command’s largest region.
Logistical personnel and MTF leaders are working closely in regards to the issue and use of personal protective equipment, or PPE, and ventilators ensuring the safety of staff and beneficiaries. Medical facilities are also fulfilling requests, when possible, from activated medical units that are deploying to support COVID-19 efforts.
Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Michael Place, RHC-A’s commanding general, said the region’s military treatment facilities are doing their part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among their staff members, beneficiaries, the local communities and supporting Army efforts across the country. However, staff, beneficiaries and the local protection mission will not be impacted.
“We understand the impact that COVID-19 is having on the nation,” Place added. The region will support DoD efforts to treat and protect all citizens. But, we must maintain protection equipment and other medical requirements at our hospitals and clinics to ensure we meet local needs in this fight.”
In support of DoD and Department of Army requirements, RHC-A’s and it’s MTFs are supporting five primary efforts:
- Protect the Force. Educating and training MTF personnel about screening process, training staff in CDC processes, event management rehearsals and publishing event management guidance
- Prepare MTF Staff. Publishing MTF screening and event management guidance, training staff in CDC processes, and ensuring MTFs rehearse event management processes.
- Protect MTF Staff and Beneficiaries. Acquiring and distributing PPE to MTF personnel and developing health surveillance and contact tracing processes in coordination with state and local public health organizations
- Respond to the COVID-19 Threat. Instituting actions to ensure early identification and management of a potential COVID-19 patient and implementing CDC and Defense Health Agency screening, testing and management guidelines; protecting staff and beneficiaries with the MTF and protecting the local community; employing CDC infection control measures and ensuring proper case reporting
- Educate and Reassure Beneficiaries. Effectively educate beneficiaries through the MTF and in coordination with installation leaders and state and local public health organizations
Across the region, medical facilities have established access control points for coronavirus screenings of staff and beneficiaries and drive-thru pharmacy pick-ups minimizing exposure for staff and beneficiaries. All are also using their social media sites to educate their beneficiaries about preventing the spread of the virus and changes in services as a result of safety protocols.
According to Place, MTF commanders and their medical teams across the region understand the responsibilities they have to each other and their beneficiaries while continuing to support the Army’s other priorities. All are doing excellent work in implementing procedures minimizing potential exposure to the virus for their personnel, beneficiaries and communities.
“We must ensure that our personnel and equipment stay ready during this health crisis while adhering to both CDC and DoD guidelines regarding safety and social distancing, “ Place said. By following set protocols, we will preserve the readiness of the force. This is non-negotiable as the Army, including medical personnel, continue to support combat operations or humanitarian missions in 140 countries world-wide.”