As COVID-19 sweeps across the United States and the world, Travis Air Force Base has taken several actions to prevent further spread of the virus while ensuring readiness.
The 60th Medical Group staff began planning to respond to COVID-19 and its potential impact on readiness weeks ago when the secretary of defense selected Travis AFB as a location to house quarantined people returning to America from Wuhan, China, to avoid COVID-19 exposure.
“We started deliberate planning in early February when we learned Travis AFB would receive repatriated American citizens,” said Col. Kristen Beals, 60th MDG commander. “We knew that was a Department of Health and Human Services mission, but we developed teams to assess what a COVID-19 response would look like at David Grant U.S. Air Force Medical Center and the impact it could have at our installation.
“We developed several teams who would screen patients and visitors to DGMC, as well as ensure we could provide force health protection and mission assurance. To ensure those two things, we implemented a number of things to protect the force and screen patients.”
Assessment teams assigned groups of health professionals to screen patients entering the Air Force’s largest medical center, and they implemented personal protective equipment and physical distancing procedures to protect health care providers and customers, Beals said.
Additionally, Team AFB leaders took measures to mitigate the virus’ impact and to maintain the health and safety of service members and their families.
Col. Jeffrey Nelson, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander, placed the base in Health Protection Condition Charlie March 18, restricted gatherings on base to less than 10 people and limited active-duty Airmen to traveling no more than 150 miles due to the growing spread of COVID-19 in the communities surrounding the base.
The pandemic has also impacted how the medical staff at DGMC provides care, said Beals.
“Routine, outpatient and elective surgeries have been curtailed, and we are leveraging telehealth options to the maximum extent possible,” Beals said. “This enables our provider teams in the clinics, who are not currently seeing patients face-to-face due to physical distancing, to handle visits over the phone. That’s something we want to continue as Solano County, California, and the president may extend physical distancing measures.”
President Donald Trump extended physical distancing guidelines through April 30 during a press conference, March 29. The president also said he would assess the situation at the end of April, but that physical distancing measures could be implemented until June.
While the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought numerous changes, Beals said her team is focused on providing essential services and maintaining military readiness.
“There are certain services we must continue to provide such as cancer treatments, the pharmacy, laboratory, hemodialysis and radiology; all of those services are still available,” she said. “Our emergency department is open. We are still providing urgent care and all of our inpatient wards are open. We are also coordinating surgeries with patients on a case-by-case basis.”
The medical group also established two COVID-19 clinics, one consisting of a series of tents outside the DGMC emergency room and another inside the facility.
“The tents outside the emergency room were constructed the weekend before March 16 in concert with the COVID-19 clinic inside DGMC, and within 48 hours we were receiving patients,” said Capt. Tyler Padgett, 60th MDG Family Health Clinic physician and one of the physicians working in the Travis AFB COVID-19 clinics.
“Our mission is to ensure people are safe and healthy at this base,” Padgett said. “We are creating and implementing plans to keep our Airmen and families safe, whether they’re required to be isolated or quarantined, and we are doing all we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring we can execute our mission.”
Additional measures have been taken to help keep the spread down and keep and keep people safe.
Since March 16, pharmacies at Travis Air Force Base implemented a touchless pickup procedure to help mitigate the spread of the virus, and remain open to all eligible beneficiaries.
“The Touchless Pickup procedure will work similar to the normal way we operate,” said Senior Master Sgt. Holly Burke, 60th Medical Group pharmacy flight chief. “Before entering the pharmacy, all patients will be required to answer questions to confirm they don’t have any of the common symptoms the coronavirus is known to cause. Once patients have been verified to not have symptoms and are granted access, they will need to get a ticket from one of our kiosks.”
The virus can survive for several hours on surfaces, so each kiosk is cleaned every 30-minutes, Burke added.
Base pharmacy professionals also laid out red tapes in lines for the counters and kiosks to let patrons know how far to stand from each other to ensure a safe distance is maintained. Plastic barriers have been placed on chairs in intervals to maintain social distancing while people wait to be called on.
Additionally, pharmacy technicians now have clear, plastic barriers between them and their customers, Burke said. Customers simply hold up their identification cards, and the pharmacy technicians can verify identities and retrieve prescriptions while maintaining physical distance.
One way the medical group is doing that is through screening locations set up across the base including the passenger terminal, satellite pharmacy and child development centers. Hand sanitizer is also now readily available at the entrances of the base exchange and commissary.
Implementing telehealth options has also enabled doctors to discuss concerns with patients without placing additional risk on providers and patients alike, Padgett added.
“The family health clinic where I work, is now mainly seeing patients virtually, but still ensuring our Airmen are mission-ready by completing a variety of requirements including preventative health assessments,” Padgett said.
Preventative health assessments are required periodically for military members to ensure they are fit for duty. Much of the responsibility for completing those assessments falls on DGMC’s Flight Medicine Clinic, which is now temporarily located in the dental clinic since the internal COVID-19 clinic now occupies the space the clinic once called home.
Over a five-day period from March 16-20, the clinic completed 93 physical health assessments, 31 annual flight PHAs and processed 20 medical clearances.
“This is a challenging time as we work to maintain readiness while mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19,” said Maj. Alisha Florence, 60th Aerospace Medicine Squadron flight and operational medicine commander. “We have to project a powerful and ready Air Force not just to our country, but to our enemies as well.”