Fort Campbell and surrounding communities are experiencing a spike in COVID-19 infections. While the numbers are rising again nearly seven months into the pandemic, Fort Campbell leaders caution that vigilance in following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and post COVID-19 safety precautions is more critical now than ever.
“We’re a reflection of our surrounding community, said Col. Patrick T. Birchfield, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital during a recent town hall. “Like the Army is a reflection of the U.S. population at large, as we see the numbers in the community rise, so too do we see the numbers of our protected populace rise with the tide. And so as their numbers go up, ours go up.”
Spikes are an indicator that people need to maintain their vigilance, Birchfield said.
As we get more and more tired of what feels like restrictive measures, this is the exact time to maintain that vigilance, Birchfield said.
For many, facing COVID-19 fatigue or complacency can be incredibly challenging as the pandemic continues. The University of California-Davis Health defines COVID-19 fatigue as feeling tired of being cooped-up, tired of being careful, tired of being scared. These feelings can cause people to become complacent and ignore COVID-19 safety precautions.
Fort Campbell leaders say while most cases are contracted through interactions in social settings and related to traveling, minimizing the risk of exposure and discipline in adhering to COVID safety precautions are critical to maintaining Soldier readiness.
With federal holidays approaching, “We are appealing to everyone’s maturity, discipline and common sense to continue the safety precautions that have served us so well and for so long now,’ said Maj. Gen. Brian E. Winski, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, during a recent town hall. “We are going to have a lot more people traveling over the holidays and we want that because that’s important for the health of the organization and the health of the individual Soldier.”
Soldiers work with their chain of command for approval and to discuss travel safety protocols.
We have to be really smart as we do so to make sure that we are not exposing ourselves or our Family members unnecessarily, he said.
“The spike may also be due to the cooler weather, less ventilation and people are indoors more often with windows closed,” said Col. Kathryn Ellis, chief of preventive medicine at BACH and public health emergency officer. “People and groups are now more likely to engage in more in-door activities. We are seeing cases where it’s difficult to social distance, especially at work or at school, which is why it’s important to wear a mask and practice good hand hygiene.”
Ellis and her team are responsible for monitoring and administering contact tracing in the instance of a positive COVID-19 case at Fort Campbell.
All, or as many identifiable individuals as possible, who have been within 6 feet of a COVID-19 positive individual for 15 minutes or more within two days prior to testing positive or developing symptoms are identified by the tracing. Those individuals are contacted by the tracer and in-formed of the exposure to COVID-19. They also are given advice on what steps to take to quarantine and test.
The recent spike in positive cases have impacted activities on post.
“We have had several facility and service closures over the past week or so due to the increase in COVID cases across the installation,” said Brian Carrigan, Directorate of Plans Training Mobilization and Security chief of operations.
Trace actions are executed for all positive COVID-19 cases, Carrigan said.
“It is imperative that the positive individual provides as much information as possible to identify their close contacts so that the trace team can notify those who potentially came into contact with a positive person,” he said. “We should all be keeping a mental note of locations we have been to and persons we have come into contact with. Then if we are notified that we are positive or even a close contact to someone that is positive, we can identify others more quickly that we may have been around.”
It is everyone’s responsibility to stay vigilant during this time and fight complacency, Carrigan said. For the workforce, it is imperative that we continue to clean our areas daily or in between customers so that we can keep our services open for the community we serve.
Among the recommended safety measures, leaders stress practicing social distancing and wearing face masks in the workplace. Remain masked while traveling in vehicles in small groups and ad-here to social distancing while eating.
“Our risk here in our local area is moderate to high, but we’re still recommending the same mitigation strategies,” Ellis said. “We’re still recommending people wash their hands, use hand sanitizer and wear a mask or face covering. Avoid contact with people who are not your close friends or Family, avoid large crowds. By paying greater attention to these mitigation measures, we can help decrease the number of positive cases.”
Getting a flu vaccination this year also is highly encouraged, she said.
“The flu produces similar symptoms to COVID-19 and can be hard to differentiate between the two, and a double infection of the flu influenza and COVID-19 is possible,” Ellis said.
More importantly, she said, people should have realistic expectations of the duration of the pandemic.
“Most of us have never been through this before, and most people truly don’t know what to expect,” Ellis said. “This will probably be with us for several months yet, if not more, and people really should consider adopting these basic safety measures as their new normal.”
The CDC recommends if you plan to host a social event, all guests who are feeling sick or have been exposed to COVID-19 within the last 14 days should stay home. Gatherings should be kept outdoors as much as possible, and separate households should remain 6 feet apart, and minimize touching.
“Fresh air activities are preferred over indoor activities,” Ellis said. “Parents should make sure they are teaching their children good hand hygiene. We should wash our hands for 20 seconds, for children they can be taught to sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice while they are washing their hands. Also show them how to wear a mask properly and how to social distance and what that looks like.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series about the challenges of COVID-19 fatigue and complacency.