FORT LEE, Va. – The sights and sounds of marching troops and bustling schoolhouses will slowly make a comeback after the return last week of thousands of military students sent home for holiday block leave.
“Slowly” is the operative word. Increased health protection conditions and other precautions are in effect to keep community members safe as surges of the omicron variant of COVID-19 are being witnessed across the nation.
All returning students and cadre, for example, were screened for COVID-19 symptoms through an orderly reception process taking place at designated facilities on post. Some were advised to stay home if they showed COVID-19 symptoms and return later to start classes, “so we’re not bringing infections back to the base,” explained Maj. Jason Spalding, CASCOM G3/5/7 operations officer.
Additionally, according to Spalding, the start of classes were delayed for at least five days after students’ returned last week, accommodating a controlled monitoring phase designed to allow for the treatment and quarantining of those infected.
Furthermore, social distancing policies are still in place and the size of casual and professional gatherings have been reduced even more. Teleconferencing and teleworking – when feasible – will figure to be an important factor in how the new restrictions are met, said Spalding.
The new, highly transmissible omicron variant has not caused death and hospitalizations on the scale of its predecessors, yet it still threatens the mission, as noted by the installation’s senior commander during a virtual town hall Friday.
“If we do not take additional measures to prevent its spread, omicron has the potential to shut down our workplaces and prevent us from executing our missions,” said Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, during the Facebook Live event. “So, we must protect the force in order to protect the mission.”
Simerly reiterated the requirements for physical distancing, the proper wear of facemasks, good handwashing and the appropriate actions to take when symptoms are noticed. He also encouraged vaccinations and booster shots.
“Protecting the force and protecting the mission means that each member of our team – every Soldier and civilian and family member – must do what they can to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 for themselves, their families and their units,” he said.
Key points emphasized during the town hall included the need to stay home and avoid contact with others if feeling ill or experiencing any symptoms of COVID. The commanding general reiterated the importance of isolating and getting tested if there is any suspicion of being exposed to the virus.
Most students here will resume classes this week. They return under relatively high vaccination rates among those who live and work on post, Spalding observed.
“Within CASCOM and all of Fort Lee, we’re about 95-percent vaccinated,” he said, referring to both the military and civilian populations. While that could be viewed as an astounding achievement, the command still recognizes that it is not 100 percent and continues the push to reach that goal.
CASCOM executed the deployment and redeployment of more than 8,000 military personnel over the holiday season, Simerly pointed out. Both he and Command Sgt. Maj. Jorge C. Escobedo, who serves as the command’s senior enlisted leader, acknowledged the importance of the down time afforded by the seasonal break and said they hope everyone has returned recharged and ready to tackle the missions, tasks and challenges of the new year.
For more information about the installation’s health protection conditions and issues related to COVID-19, visit home.army.mil/lee/index.php/COVID-19. The site includes a link to General Order No. 1 outlining the senior commander’s directions for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Team Lee members should monitor Kenner Army Health Clinic’s social media page – www.facebook.com/kenner.ftlee – for updates on vaccination availability, COVID testing and more.