In early February, JB MDL emergency operations center and crisis action team were activated to manage the COVID-19 response. The EOC includes representatives from all emergency support functions, while the CAT includes installation leadership and designated liaisons. Both entities continue to operate throughout the response.
Beginning Feb. 5, the base was tasked by the U.S. Northern Command to support a Department of Health and Human Services mission to serve as a quarantine location for anyone arriving at Newark International Airport who required a federal quarantine. The base immediately postured the Doughboy Inn lodging facility to accept passengers and worked with HHS for them to set up support services in the event they would use the facility. Although the mission ended April 4 without receiving passengers, the effort involved multiple units providing expertise and coordination with state and federal agencies.
“The rapid establishment of this capability for HHS is a testament to the base’s flexibility to provide facilities and support for a variety of missions on short notice,” said Col. Tiffany Warnke, 87th Civil Engineering Group commander and EOC director. “The effort to serve as a federal quarantine location for two months was possible because of the great coordination and teamwork from multiple government agencies, including the Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention), HHS as well as our state partners. Our ability to sustain readiness, and be ready to receive passengers over the course of two months was made possible because of great relationships and people. That action has also prepared us well, as we transitioned to our own installation, local and state public health emergency. Specifically in our ability to support and manage large numbers of quarantine and isolation personnel.”
As the global spread of COVID-19 continues, the 87th Medical Group’s public health team was consulted on actions the base needed to implement to reduce the risk to the base population and missions. The public health team and the installation public health emergency officer are experts who advise commanders and the community on actions they should take to reduce risks. Their recommendations are matched with ways to remain capable of continuing essential missions.
Various actions have been taken to reduce risk, including declaring a public health emergency March 17, which allowed for more restrictive base access and enforcement of health directives. The base also went to essential personnel only reporting status March 18 and shifted many personnel to telework status. The joint base has also implemented strong health protection condition measures and increased to health protection condition charlie March 21 to help educate personnel on the substantial health risk associated with COVID-19. A significant number of additional HPCON Delta measures have already been put into place, but the overall level remains at HPCON Charlie.
“I am extremely proud of the work our medical professionals have been doing to adapt services and take care of our patients,” said Col. Jason Lennen, 87th Medical Group commander. “We’ve had to be flexible and create innovative solutions to continue care, including establishing Saturday drive-through hours for retirees and establishing clinic entry screening procedures to ensure safety for patients.”
March 23, the base was selected as a base-support installation and is functioning as a joint reception, staging, onward movement and integration facility. The reception control center was activated to manage the inbound and outbound movement of personnel and equipment. JB MDL members have processed more than 2,000 service members for onward movement to response areas in the region. Additionally, more than 1,400 tons of medical equipment and supplies have processed through the base. The numbers will continue to climb, as personnel and equipment continue to arrive. The JRC and various equipment storage facilities enable the base to rapidly expand operations to support the processing of personnel and equipment.
Additionally, the base has designated two lodging facilities to house inbound personnel requiring quarantine. This is mainly for personnel unable to self-quarantine at home, single military members who would normally enter on-base dorms with shared bathrooms and those attending pre-deployment training. Multiple units are contributing personnel to support care for quarantined individuals to ensure they receive food, support services and essential supplies.
“The lodging and food operations teams quickly adapted their functions to support the quarantine requirement, and we pulled together augmented forces from various units on the base to support our fellow service members as they complete the required quarantine,” said Col. Dalian Washington, 87th Mission Support Group commander. “This has been a total team effort led by outstanding Airmen. I can’t thank our MSG team and augmentee forces enough for their efforts to provide essential services for those individuals in quarantine.”
Along with multiple units supporting on-base operations, some JB MDL assigned units have directly contributed off-base to support FEMA and New Jersey response operations.
The 305th Air Mobility Wing is not only supporting all of the arrivals of personnel and medical supplies coming in via military and civilian airlift from multiple locations around the U.S., but they have also been involved in the transport of COVID-19 testing supplies from overseas to a facility in Memphis, Tennessee.
New Jersey National Guard members assigned to multiple units on JB MDL, including the 108th Wing, 21st Civil Support Team, 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion have helped federal, state and local authorities with COVID-19 response operations. Personnel are spread out at multiple sites, providing medical assistance, traffic management and other support in partnership with FEMA, the New Jersey Department of Health and New Jersey State Police. They are also assisting to set up federal medical sites throughout the state.
Multiple units from other bases have also filled individual or small contingent taskings to assist at various locations throughout the region.
“I am extremely proud of the joint base team for coming together to respond to COVID-19,” said Col. Bridget Gigliotti, JB MDL installation commander. “Everyone plays a part in the response, whether it’s following CDC guidelines or directly supporting medical response. As a joint base, we have enabled live-saving medical personnel and equipment to flow into our nation’s most critically affected area. I would encourage everyone to continue to treat this virus seriously and take prudent measures to protect yourself, your families and our mission capabilities as we continue to fight COVID-19.”
The installation will continue to focus on the DOD COVID-19 priorities of protecting people, maintaining mission readiness and supporting the whole-of-government effort.