FORT LEE, Va. – The Health Protection Condition level here will increase from Alpha to Bravo as of Aug. 16.
Senior leaders made the announcement Friday evening during a town hall livestreamed on the Combined Arms Support Command Facebook page. The elevated protection level, they explained, is due to rising positive COVID case numbers and community transmission rates in Virginia. Confirmed infection rates in health districts surrounding Fort Lee rose by nearly 6 percent between July and August.
“This is a readiness issue,” emphasized Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general. “The rise of the highly transmissible Delta variant and the speed with which it transmits among individuals have significantly increased the risk to our service members and the DOD’s mission.”
Col. Karin L. Watson, Fort Lee Garrison commander, acknowledged Team Lee’s “commendable actions” that have kept positive COVID case numbers low on the installation thus far. The implementation of HPCON-Bravo, she said, is not a setback but rather a “continuation of necessary steps we already know we can accomplish to protect ourselves and fellow community members.”
“We know what we need to do,” Simerly said, “and the difference this time is having a vaccine available to every member of this community, enabling us to greatly decrease the chances of anyone getting seriously ill if exposed to COVID, particularly its Delta variant.”
As part of the stepped-up HPCON level, Team Lee will be seeing and hearing those well-sung recommendations of regular handwashing, social distancing, wearing a mask, staying home when feeling sick, and the importance of receiving the COVID vaccination.
“I have recently published an updated General Order No. 1 to enforce the current mask policy,” Simerly confirmed during the Town Hall session. “It is aligned with the latest Secretary of Defense memorandum requiring all personnel to wear masks inside DOD facilities regardless of their vaccination status.”
He advised community members to read the policy (home.army.mil/lee/index.php/COVID-19) for specifics on mask wearing in fitness facilities or when performing group training activities outdoors. It also sets guidelines for travel; restrictions of movement for new arrivals or those returning from trips; contact restrictions for initial military training students on the installation; medical treatment requirements; and more.
Revisiting the subject of COVID vaccines, Simerly acknowledged the DOD’s intention to make them mandatory for military personnel by mid-September or as soon as they receive full FDA approval, whichever comes first.
In a related National Public Radio interview Thursday morning (www.npr.org/transcripts/1026993198), Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said the mandate would apply to all branches and include the National Guard and Reserve. When enacted, it will be equivalent to a lawful order.
“The vaccines we see as akin to body armor,” Kirby told NPR. “You wouldn’t want to go into a firefight without making sure your troops have as much protection as possible, and so we issue them body armor. We’re looking at the vaccines in the same sort of light. It is a personal force protection matter for the individual, but also to the degree of that person now contributing to a more-whole unit … and that makes the command and maybe even the whole region a much safer place for us to operate in.”
Simerly emphasized Fort Lee’s commitment to protecting the health and welfare of the Army’s newest Soldiers – a promise that has been the top priority since the start of the pandemic.
“Bottom line is that we’re stepping up our vaccination campaign with the motto ‘Go Army, Beat COVID’ as the next major line of effort,” he said. “It is the key to protecting ourselves, loved ones and battle buddies to the left and right.”
Lt. Col. M. Jordan Inman, Kenner Army Health Clinic commander, explained how to get the Moderna COVID vaccine during the town hall session. The Active Duty Clinic is administering shots every Friday from 1-4 p.m. for military personnel. The Family Medicine Clinic is accommodating military dependents every Friday also from 1-4 p.m. Occupational Health is vaccinating government civilians and contractors every Friday from 1-3 p.m. Each of the troop medical clinics have scheduled specific days and times for the student population. Appointments are required for the vaccinations. Call the KAHC appointment line at 1-866-533-5242 option 1, or use the Tricare Patient Portal at tricareonline.com.
The Moderna shot is a two-dose regimen separated by 21 days. Individuals must receive both doses and allow the building of their antibodies for 14 days before they are considered fully vaccinated.