Over the past several months, COVID-19 conditions have improved across Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield. Due to the improvement, the community will now see an increase of in-person services across the installation.
These increases include Department of Defense civilians returning to the work site, facility re-openings across the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and a significant update to General Order 1 and the mask mandate.
While installation services prepare to re-open their doors to in-person services, there are several factors that employees and customers should keep in mind.
Returning to work
Department of Defense civilian employees are currently returning to the worksite after nearly one year of telework.
As these services begin to return to normal, civilian employees are reminded to keep clear lines of communication open with their supervisors to ensure a smooth transition from remote to in-person services.
Civilian workers with preexisting conditions or disability who are reluctant to return to the workplace should speak with their supervisor about a reasonable accommodation.
“A reasonable accommodation isn’t designed for an individual to telework full time,” said Garrison Equal Employment Officer Harsheen Eady. “It is designed to ensure that the individual has an ability to be in an environment where their disability is acknowledged and is communicated through open dialogue with the supervisor.”
The reasonable accommodation process is designed to fit both the employee and the agency so that productivity within the workplace remains high while maintaining the safety of the workforce.
“Examples of reasonable accommodations include ensuring unvaccinated individuals continue to wear their masks, that hand washing and sanitizing stations are still in place, potentially adding Plexiglas to work stations, or even ensuring that individuals who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 have a dedicated workspace or office to themselves,” said Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield labor and employment attorney Sarah Kalinowski.
When requesting a reasonable accommodation, it’s important to remember that maintaining flexibility is crucial.
“When an individual requests a reasonable accommodation, I always make sure to tell them that it’s not Christmas,” Eady said. “Sometimes they don’t always get the gift they’re asking for but instead an understanding between the employee and supervisor is met so that the best course of action is put in place in order to accommodate the employee so that they can comfortably enjoy the benefits of employment in spite of their disability.”
Individuals with questions regarding the return to work process are encouraged to speak with the installation’s labor management employee readiness specialists.
“We encourage employees and managers to not be afraid to reach out for assistance,” Kalinowski said. “We don’t expect managers and employees to automatically know what laws and regulations are in place, especially since things can change so quickly. We are here to help everyone get to where they need to be while also keeping the safety of our DOD employees at the forefront of our minds.”
Updated mask guidance
The Department of Defense updated its mask mandate across the enterprise May 14. Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield recently updated General Order 1 to fall in line with this directive.
Fully vaccinated individuals who are two weeks past their final shot may now drop their masks in most on-post locations. Non-vaccinated individuals will continue to wear masks in all locations.
Lt. Col John Gartside, 3rd Infantry Division surgeon, said the main focus behind the new mask guidelines comes from the perspective of safety and force health protection.
“The new mask policy clarifies who needs to wear a mask and who does not,” he said. “From a health protection standpoint, there’s no real safety need to have our vaccinated personnel wear masks any more unless they are in our on-post schools, child development centers, hospitals, medical and dental clinics and at our COVID vaccination sites.”
In addition to the new mask guidelines, General Order 1 also includes the following updates:
- Travel Policy: Vaccinated service members are not required to be placed in travel restriction of movement upon return from leave or pass. High risk leave or pass will be assessed to determine whether a travel restriction of movement is required.
- Additional Guidance & Local Community Orders: All previous restrictions on activities have been rescinded. While at off-post establishments, all DOD personnel should comply with updated CDC, State and Local guidelines regarding the wear of masks and any other COVID-19 restrictions.
- Exceptions to Policy: Commanders and supervisors may request an exception to policy in writing; all are authorized to deviate from General Order 1 restrictions for emergency purposes.
“It’s a person’s choice whether they want to get the vaccine or not,” said Gartside. “However, it’s important to understand that we are unfortunately still living in a COVID environment, and some protections still need to be in place.”
For DFMWR, the return to in-person services means returning to all the fun.
From updated mask guidelines to the renovation and re-opening of facilities that have been closed or operating under limited services for nearly a year, the enthusiasm across the directorate is infectious.
“Returning to work is a good sign that things are returning to normal after a very long year of a lot of operational uncertainty,” said Tyler Gierber, acting DFMWR deputy director. “We are just really excited, more than anything, to be returning back to some semblance of the way things were before COVID-19.”
In addition to re-opening their doors, many DFMWR facilities underwent renovations in preparation for the return to in-person services.
“For the short period of time that we were under quarantine, we took full advantage of the opportunity to reassess all of our processes to include some interior decorating in several of our activities,” Gierber said. “We’ve repainted, reorganized, repriced and really paid attention to sales trends in our food and beverage as well as our outdoor recreation arenas. As we reopen, even at a limited capacity, we are now able to offer our services at a true value to the community.”
While the excitement abounds, COVID-19 preventative measures will still be in place in all DFMWR facilities in order to protect the workforce and facility patrons.
“The mask guidelines have changed with the recent DOD guidelines, however there are still certain DFMWR facilities that patrons will be required to wear masks in regardless of their vaccination status,” Gierber said. “These facilities mainly include our Child and Youth Services facilities since the majority of our kids have not yet had the opportunity to be vaccinated.”
In addition to the CYS facilities, fitness centers have also seen an update in their mask guidelines which now allow vaccinated individuals to drop their masks while working out. Unvaccinated individuals are still required to wear their masks at all times not only within the fitness centers but all other DFMWR facilities as well.
“We have just been really focused on trying to provide some sense of normalcy since COVID broke out for our community,” Gierber said. “We could not be happier to be reopening our doors back to this community. We encourage everyone to come and see what we have available and what we’ve done.”
For additional information regarding return to work guidelines, General Order 1 updates and installation facilities and programs visit home.army.mil/stewart.