HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Air Force bases around the country are working overtime to preserve the health and well-being of personnel. At the epicenter for coronavirus information gathering and dissemination at Hill Air Force Base is the 75th Medical Group, and Public Health is on the frontlines.
Maj. Ryan Button, Public Health flight commander, said unit responsibilities have become wide and varied, and include everything from screening at risk individuals to tracking those from the base who’ve been tested.
“It’s all hands on deck,” he said. “We are busier than ever and a lot of people are doing things outside of their normal job.”
Speak with a health professional
One of the first things they accomplished in an effort to answer questions and quash rumors, as well as educate individuals on the virus and processes for getting screened or tested, was to establish a 24-hour Public Health COVID-19 hotline (801-777-7934). Hill personnel with questions relating to coronavirus can call the number and get questions answered by public health professionals.
They also stood up a Public Health Emergency All Hazards Response Working Group. Individuals from units throughout the base have been meeting regularly for the past six weeks to discuss the virus and develop checklists and processes. The working group is continually providing information and recommendations to the wing commander and other unit leaders to help in decision making.
One challenge in education and information dissemination has been how quickly the climate changes.
“Every day information is changing,” Button said. “Keeping up with the changes is a full time job. We're constantly reaching out to the county to get a finger on the pulse of the coronavirus and making sure we’re in step with what federal, state and local medical specialists are doing.”
Public Health is a primary participant in a Medical Control Center, which was established by the medical group to help streamline processes and organize efforts. The MCC operates from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. with someone always on call after hours.
Screening/testing for coronavirus
The primary role for public health in the MCC is to ensure they have accurate information on individuals who have been tested for coronavirus, and tracking the results of these tests. This process intensifies when a test comes back positive.
“We utilize risk assessment processes following CDC guidelines,” Button said. “We circle back with the member to see who they’ve had contact with. We notify their supervisor and educate them on what their risk is and what the rules of engagement are for those they’ve had contact with. We make recommendations on whether they should quarantine or self-monitor for 14 days. There is a lot involved, but it’s important.”
Button said because resources are limited, federal, state and local criteria for those who should be tested is continually changing. They work closely with local communities and they’ve been great partners in the sharing of information.
While the additional responsibilities and hours worked can take its toll on employees, Button said they are considerate of the health and well-being of employees, and creating schedules that allow for the missions to be accomplished without jeopardizing workers.
“We are altering schedules and making other necessary adjustments to ensure we can sustain this battle rhythm no matter how long this lasts,” he said.
He said he knows it’s a stressful time for people and hopes they have faith and confidence that his unit, and all the units within the medical group and throughout the base, are working hard to protect its people.
“Our priority is the health and safety of our people, and everything we do is with that in mind,” Button said.