YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz.-- The end of the COVID-19 pandemic seemed in sight in early May, with new cases plummeting and anti-COVID vaccines widely available in the local area.
As of May 13, the state of Arizona averaged 649 new COVID cases per day. More than three million Arizonans had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, and greater than 2.5 million of those were fully vaccinated.
In Yuma County, the daily number of confirmed new cases tended to be in the single digits most days. The percent positivity rate of COVID-19 tests, which had exceeded 30% during the worst days of the pandemic, was now less than 1%.
Despite the dramatic gains in defeating the pandemic, Yuma Proving Ground’s (YPG) senior leaders still urged caution.
“COVID is still active, and we have to keep being safe so we can do our mission,” said Col. Patrick McFall, YPG Commander. “We are trying to get back some form of normalcy—it’s going to be slow, but it is something we are talking about every day.”
On May 21, McFall signed new guidance stating that fully vaccinated personnel were no longer required to wear face masks in most places on post, while unvaccinated personnel were still required to. COVID vaccines were still widely available on post, even to those who initially opted out of receiving one.
“We have administered approximately 1,200 doses across the community,” said Maj. Joshua Chase, Officer in Charge of the YPG Health Clinic. “We have plenty of doses available for all Tricare beneficiaries, Department of the Army Civilians, and certain eligible contractors. If you were previously offered one and declined and changed your mind, you are still eligible. We want to make sure we put these to the best use possible and get them in arms.”
“We have vaccines to give, if you’re interested,” said McFall. “Regardless of who you are on this post, if you want a vaccine, I’m here to support you.”
McFall emphasized that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine was still completely optional, but touted the benefits the vaccines have shown to date.
“From my perspective, I have seen that the COVID numbers have been going down,” said McFall. “Do I think there is a correlation to the vaccine being given to the public? The data says yes.”
As the COVID numbers continued to decline, the normal routines of post life returned. For the first time since 2019, YPG’s Kahuna Lagoon Swimming Pool was open to post residents, with soft openings on successive Friday afternoons in May leading up to a grand opening bash with live music and free refreshments on May 22. The children’s splash pad outside the Desert Oasis Community Center reopened on 14 May, albeit with some COVID restrictions.
“What I see happening over the next month or so is more back to normal,” said Ron James, garrison manager. “We still have some tables blocked in our food facilities to comply with COVID restrictions, but as COVID continues to dwindle we will continue to expand seating.”
Likewise, several satellite gyms in remote locations around post that have been closed for more than a year will reopen soon.
“First the health team has to go through and make sure everything is set up right,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Herbert Gill. “As they re-open, I ask the workforce that will be using them to be good stewards of the gym and the equipment. The supplies to keep in clean are being provided—wipe down your stations as you go through and make sure you are helping keep it open. If they become a health risk, they will have to be shut down again, COVID or no COVID.”
Through it all, YPG’s test and evaluation workload remained busy.
“As of 30 April of this year, YPG has done approximately 987,000 reimbursable hours,” said Larry Bracamonte, YPG Technical Director. “As far as comparing it to last year, right now we’re on track to slightly exceed last year’s value. Last year we were at 1.7 million reimbursable hours: I predict we will be somewhere in the neighborhood this year.”
Though Project Convergence 21 falls outside of this fiscal year, YPG’s workload will still be robust.
“Even though the demonstration will occur in FY22, there are a lot of events leading up to it that have to be executed,” said Bracamonte. “We’re still busy with other cross-functional team work, other Army work, and other private industry work. It’s going to be a busy summer.”