FORT STEWART, Ga. — Nearly 5 weeks after assuming Health Protection level Alpha, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield — like many other U.S. military installations — has returned to HPCON Bravo.
The 3rd Infantry Division senior commander, Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza, addressed the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield community via Facebook Live, August 10, during a COVID-19 town hall that was hosted virtually on three of the installation’s digital media platforms.
Col. Manny Ramirez, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield garrison commander; Col. Julie Freeman, Winn Army Community Hospital commander; and Command Sgt. Maj. Quentin Fenderson, 3rd Infantry Division senior enlisted leader were also in attendance.
Over 500 people attended the lunchtime virtual town hall live and more than 7,700 viewed the town hall video as of publication.
The decision to increase the installations Health Protection posture was made due to an increase in COVID-19 positive cases across the installation in relation to the latest Delta Variant of the virus.
“It is our top priority to protect our forces and community against COVID-19,” Costanza said. “Our decisions are based on the facts in our community and state, Fort Stewart and surrounding Tri-County area have experienced substantial increase in cases recently so it is time to make some changes for the continued health protection of our force.”
Costanza was transparent regarding the installation’s current vaccination rates.
“Our service member vaccination rate is approximately 67%,” he said. “This is below the anticipated 85% vaccination rate needed for herd immunity for the COVID Delta Variant. While that is better than many of our neighboring counties, we need to do better.”
His decision wasn’t based on vaccination status alone.
As of Monday, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield has 247 active cases of COVID-19 with the addition of the 90 new cases reported on Tuesday from over the weekend. The installation’s total cases over the last 14 days has increased to 467, compared to 93 cases from the prior 14 days.
“You might think [the return to HPCON Bravo] is a step backward or a knee jerk reaction, but you heard the senior commander,” Ramirez said. “The COVID-19 Delta variant is aggressive and could be devastating to our workforce, Soldiers and Families. This move to Bravo is a prudent, well thought-out measure to try and stamp out COVID-19 from our ranks and I believe it is proof positive that people first is our top priority.”
Ramirez further explained that installation services and facilities will continue to operate at or near capacity as most of the changes will be seen through increased physical distancing and in some cases, reduced capacity, in garrison facilities.
In addition to the HPCON status update, Costanza also addressed his recent decision to issue a general order mandating that masks be work inside facilities on post regardless of vaccination status. The Secretary of the Army has also released an order mandating the same guidelines be followed across all military installations and Department of Defense facilities.
Exceptions to the mask mandate can be made if an individual is alone in a walled office; if an individual is eating and drinking and is socially distant from a co-worker; masks may be required to be lowered for identification or security purposes or as an annotated and approved reasonable accommodation.
“We have a responsibility to do whatever we can to help ensure our forces are safe and medically ready to complete their real world mission,” Costanza said. “I need leaders to help enforce that these behaviors are actually happening. Make corrections and lead by example.”