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Tinker expands precautions to combat COVID-19

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

With the occurrence of Tinker Air Force Base’s first cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, Tinker’s leadership has continued to implement expanded precautions to keep Airmen safe while also ensuring the installation’s ability to meet mission requirements.

At the time this article was written, the installation continues to operate under Health Protection Condition level Charlie to reduce the risk of transmission through strict social distancing measures. Through a mixture of telecommuting, staggered shifts, health screenings prior to entering buildings, closure of recreational facilities and other actions, the installation is looking to curb the spread of the virus.

“We are encouraging all personnel to follow Force Health Protection guidelines to safeguard our community to prevent widespread outbreak, and adhere to travel advisories and restrictions,” said Col. Paul Filcek, 72nd Air Base Wing and Tinker installation commander.

Along with the use of hand sanitizer and washing hands for a minimum of 20 seconds per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Col. Jennifer Trinkle, 72nd Medical Group commander, said that one of the key ways that Airmen can help in preventing the spread of the virus is by staying home when possible.

“One of the things we have really pushed is if you are not feeling well, stay home,” Trinkle said. “That’s the biggest help for everyone, from the Defender at the gate to the folks in the Medical Group to your coworkers. Just stay home and wait to see what happens.”

To comply with CDC guidelines, Airmen have already been instructed to maintain at least six feet of distance between each other and the installation has canceled all non-mission large gatherings with more than 10 individuals in attendance.

Maj. Trinette Flowers-Torres, Public Health commander, said that a significant point with the spread of the virus is that elderly populations and those with compromised immune systems and other physical health conditions are at a greater risk.

Flowers-Torres said that from a public health perspective, it is significant that a majority of the measures implemented by state and federal officials are to not only prevent the spread of the virus overall, but also to prevent it from impacting the vulnerable populations.

To this end, Trinkle said 72nd Medical Group has also implemented several measures to reduce potential for exposure. The first thing she said they did was begin performing screenings at the front door. They also expanded measures to prevent exposure to medical personnel and patients, such as only filling pharmaceutical prescriptions through the clinic’s drive-thru.

Trinkle said that as the installation takes increased HPCON measures, Airmen could see that the interaction patients have with the Medical Group is almost entirely via phone.

“We are switching a lot more to what we call telemedicine or virtual appointments,” Trinkle said. “So, what we are asking is that when you call into the medical group for routine medical issues, such as medication refills or follow-up appointments, you’ll probably be booked into a virtual appointment where a health care provider will call you back.”

Additionally, military treatment facilities and dental treatment facilities have postponed most elective surgeries, invasive procedures and dental procedures for 60 days in order to enhance staff safety, prolong the supply of protective equipment and repurpose staff to aid in the COVID-19 response.

Trinkle asked that if Airmen are at home during self-isolation and feel the need to get a physical done, that they do not call in to book that kind of appointment at this time. Trinkle said the clinic is only handling urgent cases over the phone during this time.

“If for some reason you truly need to be seen, you will be triaged via the phone,” Trinkle said. “And if you really need to be seen, you will be brought in based on that fact.”

Trinkle said that they are currently in the process of setting up a tent in the patient parking area that will serve as a cold/flu clinic to eliminate the need of people to enter the clinic.

“We do ask that you be patient with us as all of this will cause delays,” Trinkle said. “There will be backups at the drive-thru and we are diligently trying to ease that for everybody, knowing that this will be a constraint. We just want everyone to know that we are still here for you, we are still taking care of people and we are still fighting this fight.”

Flowers-Torres said that one of the reasons it can be difficult to evaluate patients for COVID-19 is that not all patients exhibit the same symptoms. She said that even one of the symptoms considered to be a hallmark of COVID-19, a fever, is not necessarily exhibited by everyone who has it.

With so little literature available on the novel coronavirus, Flowers-Torres said that other symptoms could include traditional flu symptoms like body aches and diarrhea. She said that the situation is further made complex by the fact that it is currently cold and flu season.

For general questions and more information, Flowers-Torres said that Airmen can reach the Medical Group hotline at 582-6414. Those who believe they have been exposed can call the 24-hour COVID-19 hotline at 582-6297.

For non-medical questions related to COVID-19, Airmen can call the Straight Talk Center at 734-2567. Regular updates and more information on how Tinker is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic are available at www.tinker.af.mil/coronavirus.