FORT HUACHUCA — U.S. Army officials on Fort Huachuca assured the public and others on post at a town hall-style meeting on Thursday evening that they are taking all needed precautions, the post is still open to the public for business as usual, and are doing everything they can to mitigate risk of COVID-19 spread.
They did, though, note that the situation is fluid and adjustments will be made as developments occur, such as any confirmed cases of coronavirus on post or in the county.
The panel, comprised of Maj. Gen. Laura Potter, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca; Col. Chad Rambo, the garrison commander on Fort Huachuca; Lt. Col. Wendy Gray, the commander of public health facilities on post; and Beth McMillan, a public health nurse; told the in-person and online audience that people are still free to come and go as they please, schools remain open, and the post is properly stocked with medical supplies, including test kits.
“Our intent tonight is to present you with some up front information and then allow you to ask questions,” said Maj. Gen. Potter in her opening. “First and foremost, I want you all to know that my priority is the health, welfare and safety of our workforce and their families, retirees and the community. And we will continue to evaluate our day-to-day operations and activities to ensure that your safety remains our top priority.”
Potter added that the situation is “fluid and changing by the hour” and gave her word that the community would be informed of any changes or confirmed COVID-19 cases on post as quickly as possible.
Potter said that “advanced individual training,” or AIT, graduations on post, with the exception of one on Friday, will be “virtual graduations,” with family and friends only able to watch via live stream or recordings, not live in person. Some of the graduations have hundreds of people and it would be dangerous for families to come in from all over the country, she noted.
She also noted that the upcoming Cochise College Rodeo, scheduled for March 21 and normally held on post at Wren Arena, has been canceled.
Lt. Col. Gray noted that veteran seniors are among those who need to take the most care.
“COVID-19 is very vital to the elderly population who have had prolonged, unprotected, close contact with a person with COVID-19. Those are the ones who have the greatest risk,” she said.
The panel encouraged anyone who feels they’re exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, or people who are ill and worried, should not go to a healthcare provider, but should instead contact local health officials, who would then travel to that person’s home and test them. There are plenty of COVID-19 test kits available on post, they noted, and more will be ordered and available as needed.
Meanwhile, Col. Rambo said that deployment of soldiers overseas is being approached cautiously. He said that some soldiers who were planned to be sent to an overseas location “may be sent to a stateside location.”
The group made clear that the post is following CDC guidelines closely and are taking extra precautions on Fort Huachuca to thoroughly clean and disinfect public surfaces, particularly in areas where children are cared for and gym and workout areas. Access to dining facilities and other common areas is being decided on a “day-to-day basis,” Rambo said, but currently all facilities remain open to the public.
McMillan said that anyone returning to the post who exhibits symptoms such as cough or fever are being properly quarantined, though she noted that just because someone is quarantined — or confined to their home — does not mean that they are a COVID-19 carrier.
The panel also encouraged contractors who have employees on post to take care to monitor their workers’ health and follow the same guidelines being followed on Fort Huachuca.
Cochise County Health and Social Services Director Carrie Langley joined the panel and said the county is tracking the needs of test kits throughout the area and will make more available as they become necessary. Various healthcare providers throughout the county carry the test kits.
As for the possibility that the post could be closed to outside visitors, Rambo said, “Right now, there’s no plan to close the post (to visitors).”
Fort Huachuca leaders are following all public health recommendations, so decisions may change that in the future, but they are taking steps “to mitigate the disease, but right now (there are) no plans to close the post to outside visitors.”