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Stopping the spread: JBSA mitigating risks during pandemic

Cleaning computer

To decrease the risk of unrecognized spread of COVID-19, it is important for unit personnel to increase daily cleaning, including wiping work centers at the beginning and end of each shift, especially commonly touched items, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons and water fountains, with disinfecting products.

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas --

Ensuring COVID-19 does not spread among Joint Base San Antonio personnel, their families, and the local community is a priority, and measures are being taken to prevent spread of the disease and to ensure contaminated areas are cleaned appropriately before put back to use. 

“Protecting our people has been a priority from the start,” said Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman, 502d Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio commander. “We must take aggressive measures to limit COVID-19’s spread, while also ensuring our people are trained and ready to defend the nation.”

To decrease the risk of unrecognized spread of COVID-19, Col. Robert York, Joint Base San Antonio public health emergency officer, said it is important for unit personnel to increase daily cleaning, including wiping work centers at the beginning and end of each shift, especially commonly touched items, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons and water fountains, with disinfecting products.  

“This helps protect everyone from being infected because someone could be asymptomatic or shedding the COVID-19 virus before becoming sick,” he said. 

Even with the most stringent precautions, some people will become infected, and it is important that personnel act quickly once someone tests positive for the illness. 

“When a positive case of COVID-19 is reported in a JBSA facility, the first thing to do is to vacate the area occupied by the ill person and wait a sufficient period of time for any air suspended droplets to settle,” York said. “The waiting period is dependent on how much air is flowing through the building.”

For unknown air exchanges, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommends waiting a minimum of 24 hours before someone enters the area without a surgical mask.  

“In reality, most facility wait times will be much less,” York said. In addition to air exchanges, the wait time also depends on how long it has been since the ill person left the area. 

 

In most cases, the person began feeling ill and left work several days prior to finding out they tested positive for COVID-19, so the 24-hour wait time has passed.

When a contaminated area on JBSA has been deemed by Public Health to be safe to enter for cleaning, the JBSA Emergency Operations Center plays an integral role in determining the cleaning process that will be utilized based on each situation and will make decisions on a case-by-case basis.  

All cleaning processes include disinfecting all areas (e.g., offices, bathrooms, and common areas) used by an ill person, with approved standard disinfecting products and in accordance with CDC guidelines, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces, said Lt. Col. Andy Cullen, 502d Civil Engineer Group deputy director. 

To protect all involved, individuals participating in cleaning wear disposable gloves and outer garments for all tasks in the cleaning process, including handling trash, he said. 

In addition to workspaces, dorm rooms housing individuals who test positive are being cleaned in the same manner once the service member vacates the room and before it is returned to service, Cullen said, adding that while areas of potential contamination are being cleaned, it is important that personnel not involved in the cleaning process, and not in the appropriate protective equipment, stay out of those areas. 

“All spaces identified for cleaning, as well as areas currently being used for quarantine or isolation, are off-limits to unauthorized personnel and are required to be marked accordingly,” he said.

Once an area has been cleaned appropriately, York said it is ready to reoccupy. 

Another precaution being taken on JBSA to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 is physical distancing. 

James Butler Jr., the food service contract monitor at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and JSBA-Camp Bullis, said dining facilities on JBSA are offering grab-and-go meals to help increase physical distancing and protect patrons and workers. 

“We have stopped all self-service offerings and are using paper products that can be thrown away,” he said. “Inside the dining facilities, we have removed 50 percent of seating to encourage physical distancing.” 

Butler added that staggering dining times for trainees also assists with physical distancing, helping keep the trainees well and on track, something Lenderman takes very seriously. 

“It is essential that the basic military training and technical training taking place at JBSA continue, ensuring we have the forces needed to sustain us through the current situation and into the future,” she said. “As the pandemic continues to evolve, so will our efforts to protect everyone, while also remaining vigilant and mission ready.” 

 Continuing best practices is key to maintaining that readiness.

 “By executing increased unit cleaning, practicing good physical distancing and good hand hygiene, we decrease the likelihood of transmission of COVID-19, even if a unit member becomes ill,” York said. “Clean your work centers, keep your spacing, and clean your hands -- we'll all get through this together.”