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Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson declares health emergency after 7 COVID-19 cases confirmed

The Elmendorf Fitness Center (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown)

Seven of Alaska’s 32 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, according to an online statement.

The base late Sunday declared a public health emergency, which will halt nonessential movement.

The seven people who tested positive are in isolation and “following all CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) isolation protocols,” the statement said. Six of the people who tested positive are affiliated with JBER, said Commander Patricia A. Csànk during a livestreamed town hall Monday.

Csànk said the base has been preparing to handle a COVID-19 outbreak.

“We know that there was no way the virus was going to skip our base, skip this state or our community, just the way the virus has spread,” she said. “So the Installation as a whole, we’re postured and we’re ready if the contagion spreads and we have a massive breakout there is a mass quarantine facility on the Installation. We have established a mass isolation facility on the Installation so that we can further contain the spread if we’re required to go to that.”

The base announced its first confirmed COVID-19 case three days ago. An unidentified Air Force airman tested positive for the virus after returning from overseas travel.

“All the contact tracing that these folks might have come into over the last couple of weeks has already been accomplished,”Csànk said. “Any folks who had had significant contact with those individuals have already been reached out to by the Public Health Emergency Office. Those folks are under quarantine themselves right now and also under the supervision of a public health officer.”

The base is under Health Protection Condition Charlie, which the base defined as an “elevated risk of sustained community transmission.” Csànk said the base elevated the risk level because of the change in transmission.

“The preponderance of the individuals that tested positive for the coronavirus, through contact tracing showed that they picked up the contagion through domestic or international travel but there is evidence that several individuals picked it up locally in a community transfer,” she said.

Movement on the base will stop “except to leave for work in critical jobs as prescribed by unit chains of command; to buy groceries or other important goods; to receive or provide health care; to drop off or pick up children from care; and to get fresh air while observing 6-foot social distancing between non-family members,” the statement said. Only mission-essential personnel will be reporting to work, the statement said. The Government Hill Gate is closed, Post Road Gate is closed to private traffic and the Arctic Valley Gate is closed on weekends.

The Child Development Centers will remain open, but will limit services to already enrolled children of active-duty mission essential military members, the statement said.

The base plans to keep gyms open to active-duty military members because physical fitness is a “part of their duty and a part of their job requirement,” Csànk said. Equipment has been rearranged and the facilities will limit the number of people allowed at once so that social distancing is maintained.

The Child Development Centers will remain open, but will limit services to already enrolled children of active-duty mission essential military members, the statement said.

Col. Lee Williames, commander of the base medical group, said the clinics have been preparing for COVID-19 and will continue to provide services, with modifications. They plan to meet with patients over the phone or digitally when possible or schedule appointments during times when it is less busy to limit the risk of exposure for patients.

She said the base will elevate the risk level to Delta, “which would start to feel like a lockdown situation,” if there is an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 or a death.

Alaska health officials announced 10 new confirmed cases Sunday night throughout the state, including seven in Anchorage. There were 32 confirmed COVID-19 cases Sunday, of which 13 are in Anchorage.


© 2020 the Alaska Dispatch News