JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —
As Joint Base San Antonio prepares to begin reopening services through phased, deliberate measures, personnel continue to follow the guidelines, such as physical distancing and capacity limits, established by local and state leaders, as well as the Department of Defense and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 within the community.
Leadership at JBSA continues to prioritize efforts in accordance with the priorities of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force during the pandemic, to include safeguarding national security missions; supporting the administration’s whole of government approach; and protecting service members and their families from COVID-19.
At JBSA, the person most pivotal in providing information to leaders to assist in decision-making is the JBSA Public Health Emergency Officer, or PHEO, Col. Charles Mahakian.
Many factors are considered when the PHEO provides advice, to include higher headquarters guidance and directives, and local directives given by the mayor of San Antonio.
“I serve as the lead PHEO for JBSA, and there are several alternates with whom I consult concerning any policy or directive changes that are being made,” Mahakian said. “I make sure that they are in compliance with the CDC, DOD, Defense Health Agency, Air Force Medical Service, MEDCOM, and Air Education and Training Command. I also consider guidance and directives from the State of Texas, Bexar County, and the city of San Antonio.
“As we continue through the COVID-19 pandemic, the alternate PHEOs and I balance the need to keep the JBSA population safe with the need to maintain the mission execution,” he said.
Senior Master Sgt. Dale King, deputy team chief for the Emergency Support Function, and Surgical Operations superintendent at the 59th Medical Wing located at JBSA, said following all guidance provided is essential.
“We are recommending units adhere to CDC guidance and all recommendations provided by the PHEO,” he said. “Due to the ever-evolving situation and ongoing study of the virus, we always recommend visiting the CDC website for the latest information.”
King said the staff members at the medical wing and the PHEO can only provide the information needed for unit leadership to determine what is best for their mission and circumstances.
“Each unit has been encouraged to build their own practices based off published guidance and recommendations,” he said. “The ultimate decision lies with the individual unit commanders.”
In determining HPCON levels and whether to implement or continue travel restrictions, the secretaries of the military departments, commanders of combatant commands, and the chief management officer continuously assess each DOD installation, facility or location under their purview for the feasibility of lifting travel restrictions, according to Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper.
In his memorandum dated May 22, Esper said decisions resulting from assessments are made in consultation with the services who have installations in the local surrounding areas and will take into account areas where installation personnel reside.
The first, and foremost requirement for travel restrictions to be lifted is for the location to be below Health Protection Condition CHARLIE. For this to occur, medical treatment facilities locally must have sufficient capacity; testing capabilities and capacity must be in accordance with the Departments’ tiered priority framework, to include surveillance and at-risk health care workers; and capacity to quarantine or isolate individuals returning from high exposure locations.
Any installation, facility or location which meets all of the criteria will be considered to permit movement to and from these areas. There are a few exemptions and waivers may be requested through the chain of command.
“Currently JBSA and San Antonio are experiencing a decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases,” Mahakian reported Aug. 18.
“This is encouraging, but we are proceeding with caution,” he said. “We have seen a spike in new cases following holiday weekends, and with this in mind, we will continue to reevaluate JBSA’s HPCON level.”
In order to protect the essential employees who are currently reporting to duty at JBSA installations, work center spacing and other protective measures are key. This includes continuing to close or restrict access to common areas for physical distancing rules, continuing to identify where face coverings are required, and installing additional physical barriers such as clear plastic guards, plastic curtains or privacy screens.
Work centers are also encouraged to continue maximizing flexible work schedules, flexible work hours, staggering shifts, alternating work schedules, and maximizing telework continues. While HPCON C is in effect, only essential personnel should access JBSA installations for work.
As conditions on JBSA and in the local area continue to improve, there will be a phased return to work plan implemented at each unit level.
Mahakian said JBSA is doing well so far, but this is a marathon, not a sprint.
“The conservative estimates are that we have at least 6 to 12 months until a COVID-19 vaccine is ready for the general population,” he said
Mahakian also recommends everyone continue to take protective measures.
Maintain physical distancing of 6 feet, at work and non-work settings.
Wear a cloth face covering when indoors. This is required by the City of San Antonio, and protects both you and those around you.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer.
If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, to include fever, cough, or shortness of breath, do not leave your home. Contact your primary care physician for treatment options.
For updates on COVID-19 measures at JBSA and to read all current local directives and restrictions, go to https://www.jbsa.mil/coronavirus/.