JBER guides clarify the general public well being emergency and urge employees to keep away from locations with out masking or distancing
Military leaders at the Elmendorf-Richardson Joint Base declared a public health emergency Friday, urging staff to avoid off-base locations that do not require masking or social distancing, given the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases the strained hospital capacity in south-central Alaska.
“This statement reflects the ongoing reality that JBER is experiencing ongoing transmission of COVID-19 in the community,” Air Force Col. Kirsten Aguilar, 673d Air Base Wing and JBER commander, said in a prepared statement. “It remains in force for 30 days, but can be extended or shortened depending on the conditions.”
The base has moved to the Bravo state of health protection. The change means Aguilar has more powers to take measures that would protect the grassroots from COVID-19.
“If the situation worsens, additional measures will be taken to protect the force, including restricting access to facilities outside the base,” JBER officials said in a statement.
In a letter to staff on Friday, Lt. Gen. David Krumm, a senior military commander responsible for the Alaska Air Force and the state’s home defense mission, said most service members are exposed to the virus outside of JBER.
“Unfortunately, the lack of grass-roots mitigation measures has resulted in alarmingly high rates of infection, hospital admissions and deaths in our community,” Krumm wrote. “Current COVID cases on JBER have not yet reached the point where our operational readiness is at risk, but they are on the rise and our data suggests that off-base exposure is the main source of infection for our service members and their families.”
While the base does not implement immediate restrictions, Krumm urges military members and families to avoid facilities that do not require masks, physical distancing, and other mitigation measures.
At the moment, neither Anchorage nor the Mat-Su have mask requirements or capacity restrictions for companies or gatherings. In Anchorage, Mayor Dave Bronson continues to oppose such measures.
COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions in Anchorage and across the state have skyrocketed, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant. Alaska had the third highest COVID-19 case rate in the country per 100,000 people in the past two weeks on Friday.
[Alaska is now 3rd in the nation for highest case rate as state reports nearly 900 cases and 1 death Friday]
The situation has gotten so bad that the state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, started rationing care this week under crisis protocols. Other hospitals in the city and state report similar strain on staff and capacity.
The Department of Defense and federal agencies like JBER require masking and social distancing in all indoor facilities when in a high transmission area, Krumm said.
Krumm said restrictions, such as those enacted by JBER in October 2020, preventing service members from visiting certain off-base facilities, could be imposed unless improvement soon ensues.
“This is a message to our service staff and their families that we should do this voluntarily just to help our community and the troops,” Krumm said in an interview on Friday. “We will also do everything we can to protect the troops so they know it should get worse.”
All Department of Defense service members must be given the FDA-cleared COVID-19 vaccine, and Krumm said in an interview that the Air Force unit on JBER is nearing 95% vaccination coverage.
“We always encourage everyone who is eligible for the vaccine to take it as soon as possible,” said Krumm. “We have a lot of vaccines available. And we have an open door policy so everyone can come here on the grassroots to get their vaccines. “