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Update: AF Academy extends public health emergency, continues to reopen

Story by Ray Bowden, May 29, 2020

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force Academy prolonged its public health emergency until Aug. 18.

Originally slated to expire May 23, the base extended its public health emergency based on information from the Defense Department and State of Colorado, according to the school’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria.

“As we slowly open back up, we need to reanalyze our risk and make smart and safe decisions,” he said.

The base first declared a public health emergency March 23 due to the COVID-19 threat, and elevated the Academy’s health protection condition to Health Protection Condition Charlie. This condition indicates a substantial risk of disease and increases protective measures, including restrictions on social distancing, in-person meetings and official travel.

The state of Colorado and all U.S. military installations, including Buckley, Peterson and Schriever air force bases and Fort Carson, are in similar states of emergency.

Public health emergencies are declared when a significant outbreak of infectious disease exists, according to Department of Health and Human Services guidelines.

In April, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper instructed everyone on a federal installation to wear cloth face coverings in public and at work when they cannot keep their social distance.

Airmen assigned to the 10th Security Forces Squadron will check all who enter the base at the South and North gates for cloth face coverings or facemasks.

“If they don’t have a mask, they will be asked to get one before they’re allowed on base,” said Col. Marcus Corbett, commander of the 10th SFS. “We invite DoD identification-card holders and beneficiaries on base, but we want them to be safe and our Academy community to be safe.”

The New Normal

Still, senior base officials are working to ease restriction as the base population gets used to what Silveria called “the new normal.” Defense Department beneficiaries who do not work or live on base are welcome to shop on base, noon until closing. Some services, including the Eisenhower Golf Course and the Community Center Gym are slowly opening to accommodate customers. To use the Eisenhower Golf Course, you must be a DoD beneficiary and ID-card holder. The Community Center Gym is open only to active duty service members who are assigned to the Academy at this time.

Col. Chris Grussendorf commands the 10th Medical Group providing healthcare to 26,000 beneficiaries.

“We’re seeing 56% more patients through telehealth visits compared to our day to day operations before COVID,” he said. “Many patients say the telehealth visits are convenient and they would like to see them continue.” Grussendorf said he’s planning future operations for the 10th MDG that include expanded telehealth visits for patients.

The medical group is a referral center for medical, dental and other health-related services. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, those services are in high demand, Grussendorf said, and telehealth online visits help his staff meet patients’ needs.

Surgeries are being scheduled and performed on a limited basis at Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson and at Colorado Springs civilian partner hospitals.

“Our primary care clinics began offering increased face-to-face appointments again for family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine,” Grussendorf said.

All patients and staff at the Academy must wear facemasks.

“We’ll continue to use entry control screening, physical distancing, and face masks at our clinics and pharmacy to ensure the health of our patients and staff,” Grussendorf said.

In another change, Silveria is allowing service members assigned to the base to travel within 250 miles of the school. In March, he restricted service members to a 100-mile radius of the Academy, but adjusted that policy May 21.

“Please make smart choices about where you go and where you interact,” Silveria said.

Bringing Cadets Back

Silveria also announced last week the school is preparing for the arrival of its next class of cadets in June.

“We’re establishing quarantine guidance, testing and restriction of movement policies that mirror the guidelines and policies of the DoD and State of Colorado,” he said.

Silveria said he’s well aware that returning cadets to the school in full force will be challenging but safe.

“Everyone can expect restriction of movement for 14 days when they arrive, along with COVID-19 testing,” and other safety measures, he said.