Travel restrictions have been placed on soldiers at Fort Wainwright and airmen at Eielson Air Force Base if they want to take leave.
According to the Eielson website, local leave for airmen is “limited to within a 250-mile radius of Eielson Air Force Base” and the Anchorage and Mat-Su Valley areas are “specifically not authorized.” At Fort Wainwright, soldiers on leave have been limited to a 350-mile radius of their assigned duty station.
Leadership at Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright have also canceled events and closed some facilities in response to the threat of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
At Fort Wainwright, all sports events have been canceled, including hockey, volleyball and basketball league games and practices. A number of child and youth services have also been put on hold, including sports programs and homeschooling. The Nugget Lanes Bowling Center is closed until further notice, as is the Birch Hill Ski and Snowboard Area.
As of Thursday, there are still no confirmed cases of the disease in any soldiers or airmen in the Fairbanks area, according to public affairs officers from both Eielson and Fort Wainwright. Testing for the disease has been occurring at both locations.
During a town hall meeting held on Fort Wainwright Tuesday night and broadcast over Facebook Live, leadership provided an update on the response to the outbreak. Maj. Gen. Peter Andrysiak, commander of U.S. Army Alaska, emphasized the importance of washing hands and keeping areas sanitized as well as social distancing. He noted, however, that soldiers and families should make efforts to stay in contact while self-isolating.
“The term you’re going to hear a number of times is ‘social distancing’,” Andrysiak said. “But I also want to make sure that as we’re social distancing, that we’re not also socially disconnected.”
Col. Christopher Ruga, U.S. Army Garrison Alaska, Fort Wainwright commander, said that the post’s leaders are working on contingency plans based on those established by other bases as the spread of the virus continues. According to Ruga, the installation’s Child Development Center will remain open, allowing parents of children to continue to work.
“If we get to a point, and we assess this on a daily basis, where CDCs do need to close, we will let everyone know,” he said of the centers.
Andrysiak went over some of the cautionary measures that are being taken at the installation. Soldiers won’t be going to the gyms in the morning, for example.
“They’re going to unit areas and breaking out into small units, about squad-size level,” he said. “And then doing more PT outside.”
Andrysiak added that social distancing is being incorporated at dining facilities and that large events will continue to be postponed or canceled. Identification checks at the installation’s front gate are still being implemented but with a “no-touch” policy in which the ID is inspected only visually.
Ruga also noted that any soldier who is forced to stop working will still receive pay. Those who voluntarily stop working will still have to use vacation time or sick leave.
At Eielson Air Force Base, the Youth Center, the 354 Sportsbar, the bowling lane and the Community Center have been closed.
Permanent Changes of Station have also been postponed. A notice on the Eielson website states that “In accordance with [Department of Defense] guidance, individuals and family members will not PCS between 16 March and 11 May except on a case-by-case basis.”
According to Capt. Alysha Do, 354th Medical Operations Squadron, as of March 18, four COVID-19 tests have been conducted on members of the Eielson community, and all came back negative.
“Permanent changes of station and temporary duties have been temporarily halted Department of Defense-wide, so all incoming and outgoing Airmen will be delayed until at least mid-May,” she wrote in an email to the News-Miner. “Additionally, many agencies on base have implemented minimal manning and teleworking policies in an effort to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing suggestions. Members of the Eielson team are encouraged to take care of each other, communicate with leadership teams, and work through challenges so we can continue to accomplish our wing mission.”
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.