By Scott Prater
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Citing a smaller number of reported virus cases, both in the state and local area, Fort Carson leaders announced some easing of restrictions during their COVID-19 town hall update May 27, 2020.
Maj. Gen. Matthew W. McFarlane, commanding general, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, said post gyms and some other facilities would open to active-duty Soldiers, and they did open on Monday with limited capacity and with COVID-19 response measures in place.
McFarlane also announced that the post’s curfew, which has been in effect since late March would be lifted, and it was on June 1, 2020.
“Overall, it looks like our numbers (of reported positive COVID-19 cases) are beginning to level off somewhat,” McFarlane said. “As we look at conditions-based reopening of facilities on Fort Carson, we’ve got to balance activities effecting force readiness, training and schools, while we still operate in a COVID-19 environment.”
The Army’s COVID-19 transition plan is a conditions-based approach that informs senior commanders on whether they should conduct activities in a less restrictive manner. McFarlane explained that Fort Carson leaders continue to use four conditions when deciding to relax restrictions while also preventing COVID-19 transmission.
“The first condition is local case rates,” he said. “In the six counties around Fort Carson, we still have what we would call a moderate to high risk in terms of our case rates.”
But, as McFarlane explained, Fort Carson is performing well in the next three conditions – treatment capacity at Evans Army Community Hospital (EACH), testing capacity at EACH and the post’s monitoring capacity of people in isolation and assessment of Soldiers entering work areas.
The commanding general said these current conditions should allow post leaders to relax Fort Carson’s Health Protection Condition (HPCON) in the next couple of weeks.
The news came with a caveat, however.
“If we notice a spike in cases, known as a complacency spike, we’ll have to reduce the amount of things we do as a means for keeping people safe,” McFarlane said. “Individual actions matter and we encourage everyone to not be complacent about COVID-19 measures.”
As state and local area leaders reopened campgrounds, McFarlane said he has approved Soldiers to apply for leave and passes to allow them to partake in overnight camping activities, but asked that Soldiers work with their chain of command prior to doing so.
“Soldiers and community members need to remain aware that as gathering places open, the risk of exposure increases,” he said. “Outside is better than inside and larger rooms with fewer people is the best decision.”
As the Army moves into the summertime permanent change of station (PCS) season, the commanding general also announced that the Army has introduced a new PCS app in the last week. Named Army PCS Moves, the app is designed to improve the moving experience for Soldiers, Families and Department of the Army civilians. He asked that Soldiers try the app and then provide feedback to Fort Carson leaders.
“I don’t see us getting back to normal,” McFarlane said. “We are going to have a new normal, which we’ll have to adapt to.”
While reminding community members that this summer’s Freedom Fest and Ivy Week have been postponed, he confirmed that Fort Carson will conduct a fireworks show on July 4, 2020.
Command Sgt. Maj. Adam Nash, senior enlisted leader, 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson, then spoke to NCOs on post, saying that they need to continue to enforce good order and discipline among their ranks. And, that when Soldiers and community members gather, they should choose outdoor activities and those that allow for proper social distancing and the wearing of face coverings.
In regard to the opening of gyms on post, Col. Brian K. Wortinger, commander, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson, provided detailed guidance for Soldiers.
“Yes, we are going to open them, but it won’t be anything like you’re used to,” he said.
While Soldiers will be required to wear masks the entire time they are in the gym and individual pieces of equipment will need to be wiped down following their use, the gyms will also rely on unit reservations for 1-hour blocks only.
“This will be the tough part initially,” Wortinger said. “We hope to move off of this relatively soon, but the 1-hour blocks will be coordinated through the G-3 office at 4th ID. Unit reservations are for a 45 minute workout time with a 15-minute clean up time. We have limited capacity and high demand.”
Additionally, not every piece of equipment will be open for use to allow for distancing, and all sport courts and most locker rooms will be closed. Only Ivy and McKibbon fitness centers’ locker rooms will be open and those will have limited capacity as well.
Responding to increased demand, Wortinger said leaders hope to open the Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program as soon as possible as well.
“We would like to open other services like in-person dining at the Ivy Warrior Restaurants, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and AAFES facilities, to come in line with what the Colorado Governor has chosen to do,” he said. “But, we need to keep our transmission rate down by doing the right things, so that we can continue to open facilities on Fort Carson.”