Camp Atterbury, IN – Stamped in raised metal letters, local license plates around here read: “The Crossroads of America.” Scores of out-of-state license plates also transit Indiana’s corn-lined interstate highways, making sense of the “crossroads” motto. Since mid-March 2020, the coronavirus has traveled those same highways, sideswiping many organizations’ established plans – including the Department of Defense (DoD) civilian deployment process.
The COVID-19 virus has however, hit a speed trap in the corn fields of central Indiana.
At a sun-bleached clinic on Camp Atterbury, IN, a contingent of U.S. Army medical staff’s main mission is to stop the disease in its tracks, ensuring that DoD personnel can travel safely - in a timely manner. For their virus prevention and pandemic policing efforts, and for protecting travel capabilities, these U.S. Army military medics could aptly be called “COVID Cops”.
Camp Atterbury Clinic, 17 September 2020
“There’s a core staff of four: a nurse, a
nurse practitioner, a hearing and vision tech and me,” says Sandra Harrold, Clinical Supervisor, Camp Atterbury Health Clinic. Dressed in scrubs, wearing masks and gloves, Ms. Harrold and her Medical Department Activity (MEDDAC) “enforcement” team conduct COVID-19 tests on deploying Department of Defense Expeditionary Civilians (DoD-EC), ensuring that they’re virus-free when they travel to their overseas destinations to support contingency operations.
Expeditionary Civilian face masks mitigate virus spread
“We’re at the tip of the spear for medical processing for civilians. They have a negative result by the time they’re cleared to fly. The first full chock went out September 11th,” says Harrold. The work of the health team accomplishes and advances U.S. National Defense Strategy objectives, through uncertain times.
Starting by stopping
Prior to deploying overseas, “ECs” travel to a living area inside the camp, to begin a 14-day Restriction of Movement – or ROM – while continuing their training. The ROM is a recent addition to the established decade-old pre-deployment clearing process. Much like in a sanitary medical clinic environment, the EC Program has put stringent safety precautions in place, ensuring hygienic housing and training spaces.
Since the pandemic started, individual housing quarters were modified to minimize shared space. Notes Army Captain Jesse Bien, Camp Atterbury Public Affairs Officer, “Doors installed to the outside allow ECs to avoid using hallways, and surfaces are deep-cleaned by Environmental Services technicians on a strict daily protocol.” Although local restaurants still deliver food orders, containers are “wanded” by ultra-violet light rays before consumption. Internet access and other amenities make the living experience for the ECs similar to a hotel stay - with the serious nature of the public health mission on everyone’s mind.
In addition to conducting COVID-19 testing on all ECs in the ROM area, MEDDAC staff continue the standard pre-deployment clinical medical operations, and sick call. “We have a dual mission; we’re doing a lot of different things here,” says Harrold. Processes like administering immunizations and hearing tests are slightly slowed, yet Harrold says taking extra precautions means taking no chances. “When the deployers walk in, they are coming into a space that they know is safe, and it’s evident by the way that we operate. They’ve said it gives them a good feeling. They can see we’re operating with the safest precautions, so they can deploy with their best interests in mind.” The list of safety precautions is impressive, allowing the DoD to fulfill ‘Stop Movement’ requirements laid out by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper earlier this year.
Following CDC safety precautions, MEDDAC clinic staff members (from left) Stacy Jarrell, Health Technician and Sandra "Sunny" Harrold, Clinic Supervisor, demonstrate audiogram hearing testing provided to Expeditionary Civilians during COVID-19 medical operations
Adjusting to the times to stay on time
“For starters, we have set forth that we’re not going to allow anyone else in our building while [ECs] are here. They are transported here on a sterilized bus, dropped off, and go straight out of ROM into our building …which is cleaned according to medical standards,” says Harrold. Clinic staff don’t touch any paperwork without a pair of gloves on. “We do deliberate risk assessments, and we have mitigated every risk that could cause transmission. And then we’re going to do medical processing for the next class, which is in 2 weeks. It’s constantly on a 2 week rotation,” Harrold emphasized.
COVID-killing sanitation wipes protect immunization station work surfaces
With the coronavirus transmission halted by MEDDAC “COVID Cops,” the ECs depart Camp Atterbury’s ROM area by bus, safely rejoining those traversing America’s crossroads. Arriving at the non-public side of Indianapolis International Airport, they board disinfected military aircraft for their overseas flights. With MEDDAC’s support, the Expeditionary Civilian program is making on time departures. As the planes go airborne, the only airborne traveler not aboard is the coronavirus.