Spc. Dorien Lewis, a combat medic with Division Sustainment Troops Battalion MEDOPS, 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a U.S. Army Soldier, Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Army photo Sgt. Marquis Hopkins)
Spc. Dorien Lewis, a combat medic with Division Sustainment Troops Battalion MEDOPS, 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a U.S. Army Soldier, Aug. 17, 2021. (U.S. Army photo Sgt. Marquis Hopkins) (Photo Credit: Sgt. Marquis Hopkins) VIEW ORIGINAL

(FORT STEWART) – Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield are increasing health protection measures as the surrounding area has experienced substantial increase in cases recently. COVID-19 case rates double previous highs set in January 2021 for the tri-county area.

Effective Sept. 1, 2021, all service members assigned to Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, regardless of vaccination status, are prohibited from visiting bars, night clubs or dance clubs under the revised General Order One.

“Georgia has among the highest COVID infection rates in the U.S. — along with one of the lowest vaccination rates,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza, commanding general of 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. “Our local hospitals are at full capacity and on diversion status for Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds. We assess our tri-county data every day before we make decisions that impact our Soldier’s morale, but this is a health and readiness concern based on facts and data.”

Such protective measures were previously in place during spikes in infection rates before vaccines were widely available. The measure is already in place at other Georgia bases like Fort Gordon and Fort Benning.

Previous protective measures requiring that all individuals shall wear a mask inside any on-post facility remains in effect. As does the requirement that regardless of vaccination status, all service members shall wear a mask inside off-post public buildings or facilities.

While the division prepares for the mandatory vaccination of all service members as directed by the Department of Defense, these changes to the standing General Orders at Fort Stewart are in response to immediate threats present in our local area.

“While mandatory vaccination is focused on our Soldiers, it is also important to offer the vaccine to family members to prevent severe cases that may need hospitalization, and limit spread of the disease. Household spread has increased over the past week, and accounts for over 25% of our cases,” said Lt. Col. John Gartside, 3rd ID Division Surgeon.

“Our contact tracing shows that the majority of cases are community spread, outside of Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield and then spread within the household,” said Col. Julie Freeman, Commander of Winn Army Community Hospital. “Our local COVID positive case rates remain very high. Hospitals in this state and surrounding states are stressed. We have sent patients as far as 300 miles away for a bed in an Intensive Care Unit. We need to be extremely vigilant in the next 30 days with the high transmissibility of the Delta variant. Get vaccinated, keep to small outdoor gatherings, wear your mask, wash your hands, and remain physically distant. Find the other ways to connect socially. We will get through this together,” Freeman said.

The highly contagious delta variant now accounts for more than 98% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unvaccinated cases account for 80 % of the cases locally. While there is evidence that people can transmit the disease even if vaccinated, vaccinated people have mostly had only mild symptoms.

“We know there is still a lot of misinformation out there,” said Costanza. “For anyone still stuck on this pandemic being a conspiracy, we have lost members of our garrison staff to this disease, and family members of our Soldiers and DA civilians over the last year and a half. The continuing rate of infection in our area is a real risk to the community and our ability to train. We’re not out of this yet, and I will continue to monitor trends and put measures into place to mitigate risk to our Soldiers and family members. ”