Fort Lee responds to COVID-19 recovery questions
A Fort Lee first responder receives a dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine at Kenner Army Health Clinic earlier this year. (Photo Credit: Lesley Atkinson) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. – In a newly released version of General Order No. 1, the senior commander here has lifted most mask requirements and eased travel restrictions for vaccinated individuals.

As stated in the order, the changes reflect how “aggressive prevention and mitigation measures have successfully limited the spread of the COVID-19 disease within the force and in the civilian population.” That along with the widespread availability of multiple vaccines has “set the stage for the gradual reopening of operations and services on Fort Lee.”

The command continues to emphasize the health of the force is its top consideration and relaxed migration measures will be reversed if there is any indication they are increasing the risk of virus exposure within the community. The following responses to frequently asked questions are part of the command’s effort to keep Team Lee members informed about the current situation.

What has changed about the mask requirements at Fort Lee?

Fully vaccinated personnel – meaning those who are at least two weeks beyond their final dose – are no longer required to wear a mask indoors or outdoors on Fort Lee. This does not exempt them from wearing masks in some facilities that continue to require it for the protection of patrons, such as the Soldier Support Center, dining facilities, fitness centers (when not actively exercising), and Child and Youth Services facilities. Personnel and visitors should comply with any signs at an on-post facility directing entrants to wear a mask. Soldiers also must wear masks during physical fitness activities when social distancing cannot be maintained – this includes group settings and the APFT/ACFT. A mask is not required only when doing PT alone or separated from a group.

Those not considered fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks at all indoor locations – classrooms, offices, etc. – and outdoor shared spaces. The same exceptions of previous General Orders apply to this, such as masks not being required for those alone in an enclosed office or outdoor space, the brief periods of time when they’re eating or drinking, and when they’re at their personal residence on post, for example.

The newly published General Order goes into greater detail about areas where masks are still required. Workforce members are expected to read and follow those guidelines. The same statement is true for off-post activities. Individuals will comply with any restrictions of the governor’s Virginia Forward plan.

Does the lowering of mitigation measures also mean leave/travel restrictions have changed?

Not entirely. Fully vaccinated Soldiers are the only population that will return to the normal leave request process outlined in AR 600-8-10 and command policy. Unvaccinated service members are at higher risk for contracting the virus; therefore, they still need company commander approval for travel within 180 miles; battalion commander approval for travel between 180-300 miles; and brigade commander approval for over 300 miles.

Anyone traveling to or from a foreign country should expect proof of vaccination requirements and a restriction of movement or quarantine period. Testing for COVID exposure 3-5 days before departure or upon return to the U.S. also is mandatory. The recently published General Order goes into greater detail, and individuals planning travel outside of the U.S. are expected to review and be ready to comply with the requirements.

If most of the community has been vaccinated, why are masks and social distancing still necessary?

Post leaders anticipate a majority of Fort Lee’s population will be vaccinated by the end of June, but less than half are fully vaccinated today. A little over 50 percent of Virginians have received COVID shots. That means there is still a significant percentage of individuals on- and off-post who are vulnerable, and those who refuse to be vaccinated will likely remain so.

New strains of the virus also need to be considered. Fort Lee is a diverse community that welcomes military personnel from all over the country and foreign nations for training or permanent assignment. The overarching priority is to protect the force. People still need to demonstrate the discipline necessary to prevent another outbreak or keep themselves and others from getting seriously ill. Wearing a mask as directed, getting vaccinated and maintaining social distancing remain important.

Have off-post privileges been reinstated for initial military training personnel?

The new General Order gives school commandants the authority to approve off-post activities for official duty purposes such as organized volunteer activities, class trips and receiving medical care. The Army Logistics University President has been granted the authority to grant open off-post privileges for Basic Officer Leader Course and Warrant Officer Basic Course students. All Soldiers who are not fully vaccinated will wear masks at all times while off-post.

Fort Jackson is now allowing family member attendance at BCT graduations; why is it still prohibited at Fort Lee?

Since basic combat training graduations are held outdoors, which the CDC has classified as the lowest risk for spreading the COVID-19 virus, the senior commander at that installation allowed family attendance by invitation only and the visitors have to be fully vaccinated. All graduations at Fort Lee are held indoors, a setting that poses a higher risk for the spread of COVID-19.

Will there be any allowances this summer for travel and enjoying recreational activities in the local area?

Absolutely, but community members are asked to consider the possible risk of COVID-19 exposure and other safety hazards when engaging in any leisurely activity. Factors that need to be taken into account include crowd sizes, the venue’s enforcement of masks and social distancing, and indoor (greater risk) or outdoor (less risk) settings.

New crowd limits have been set for outdoor and indoor activities. No social gathering will exceed 250 people if held outdoors or 100 people indoors. Those limitations do not apply to religious services, work gatherings or educational instruction.

Can on-post housing residents invite family members to visit over the summer?

Again, the answer is yes, but the visit sponsors must ensure their guests are aware of mask and social distancing requirements on post. The CDC recommends small family gatherings only. Masks should be worn and social distancing maintained particularly by individuals who have not been vaccinated.

Are COVID shots available thru Kenner and, if so, how can I get vaccinated?

Vaccinations are available for all community members, age 18 and over. Medical providers from Kenner are providing the Moderna vaccine every Friday at Clark Fitness Center for service members, DA Civilians, eligible contractors, dependent family members and other beneficiaries. Authorized individuals can book appointments through the Tricare Online Patient Portal or the Kenner appointment line at 1-866-533-5242.

Why doesn’t Kenner offer vaccine options other than Moderna?

Storage of the Pfizer vaccine requires an ultra-cold freezer, and Kenner does not have that capability at this time. The Johnson & Johnson serum is not being shipped to military clinics. It has been prioritized for overseas use.

Can Tricare beneficiaries seek other types of vaccines – Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson – off post?

Yes, all vaccines are available to Tricare beneficiaries free of charge. Please keep your assigned health care team informed if shots are received elsewhere.

Has there been any change to the reporting procedures and quarantine requirements if someone suspects they have contracted COVID-19?

The procedure for reporting remains the same. Those experiencing symptoms should STAY HOME and contact their primary health care provider for instructions. Kenner beneficiaries can set up a COVID test appointment through Tricare Online (www.tricareonline.com) or by calling the appointment line at 1-866-533-5242, option 1. Unvaccinated individuals who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 will be instructed to quarantine. Vaccinated individuals are not required to quarantine unless they are exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Individuals receiving the vaccine should note they are not considered immune to the disease until 14 days after their final shot.

What steps can community members take to get the post back to normal operations?

First and foremost, continue to practice COVID-19 mitigation measures such as regular hand washing, wearing a mask in crowded settings, maintaining social distancing and getting vaccinated. Community leaders should set the example and enforce the standards set forth in General Order No. 1. Anyone who suspects they have been exposed to the virus should stay home and report it, even if they have been fully vaccinated and are asymptomatic.