SAN ANTONIO -- The Army has begun using special teams that help track and identify people with coronavirus at installations, an Army leader said Wednesday.
Following the example of garrison commanders at bases in Korea and Italy, the teams have been implemented at many other Army posts, said Lt. Gen. Douglas Gabram, U.S. Army Installation Management Command commanding general. He explained once a COVID-19 patient has been identified, the teams take measures to trace the patient’s activities and decontaminate the areas the person visited.
“This is a critical component to mitigate and stop the spread of this virus,” he said.
The size of the “clean” and “trace” teams varies by installation. Gabram said patients with COVID-19 will be carefully screened and interviewed on what locations they traveled to on an installation. Those identified with COVID-19 will then be quarantined and assigned team members will clean the areas where the patient made contact.
“Everyone has their function,” he said. “Frankly it’s a battle drill.”
Gabram said teams that have been more aggressive with their tactics tend to be more effective. The trace and search teams reflect IMCOM’s larger philosophy of defending against the pandemic from a position of strength by using a proactive approach. And when individuals protect themselves, he said, they help protect the force and help the force safeguard the country.
“We’re treating this as a combat operation in IMCOM,” Gabram said. “Think of our installations as our forward-operating base. So now I say this is a ‘home’ game. Before it was an ‘away’ game when we were in our FOBs in Iraq or Afghanistan. Now those FOBs are our installations … Are we ready? We’re absolutely ready.”
Gabram declined to say if a decision to reopen Army installations to normal conditions is imminent. He warned against resuming pre-COVID conditions until the pandemic has been sufficiently mitigated.
“We are all aware (of) the risks of returning too quickly,” he said. “I believe this is going to be a conditions-based road to recovery. And our headquarters is working at, along with the Army, on a deliberated, graduated return when that decision is made.”
Installation senior commanders have been given the authority to make their own evaluations of COVID-19 threat conditions based on the risks involved to each installation, including proximity to coronavirus hot spots.
Gabram said Army senior leaders have empowered those commanders to make decisions as far as determining when each installation’s facilities are essential and which may re-open or remain open. That includes fitness centers and day care centers, of which 30 percent remain open on IMCOM’s 75 installations worldwide. That 30 percent caters to children of necessary personnel, including first responders, nurses, doctors and military police.
Installations have worked with post exchanges and commissaries to provide curbside pickup services to customers.
Most bases have closed their barbershops, though some commanders have elected to keep them open. Fort Meade, Maryland closed its shop on April 12. Gabram said that the shops that remain open have taken the proper safety measures, including cleaning of equipment, spacing barber chairs appropriately apart and social distancing customers waiting in line. Barbers have been directed to use gloves and masks.
In addition, installation commanders have worked closely with residential initiative community partners and housing management to find a coordinated, effective response to the virus, Gabram said. That response includes changes to maintenance practices and light health and safety work orders.
“The strength of our relationships before this was strong and the strength of our relationships after this is going to be stronger,” Gabram said.