Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — Ohio’s largest single-site employer — is launching a measured approach in gradually reopening, with the number of workers at the base slated to start to roughly double next week, said Col. Tom Sherman, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander.
Despite a historic global pandemic, Wright-Patterson remains not only a major regional employer but a major Air Force base whose mission focus never wavered, Sherman said. A base spokesman last week said Wright-Patterson lost no units or jobs in the COVID-19 crisis.
“The United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson never stopped working,” Sherman said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News on Thursday. “We were able to incorporate technology and virtual capabilities, and we were able to really remarkably continue the mission of the U.S. Air Force, just in a very different manner.”
“Our employees were incredibly resilient in adapting to the technological methods, virtual work, telework and so forth,” he added. “The mission of the Air Force continued to move forward while the COVID-19 crisis was around all of us. It’s a remarkable testament to the resiliency and ingenuity of the Air Force to keep that mission going.”
But what base leaders are calling the first phase of the reopening will look a lot like conditions today.
As the base gradually reopens beginning Monday, commanders and directors will be allowed to bring up to 20% of their assigned workforce back to work centers and offices to complete “mission essential tasks.”
Base leaders expect that to mean about 3,000 to 4,000 additional people are expected on base in the first phase of reopening.
Today, about 3,000 workers in a variety of roles — medical, security, firefighting, communication and other jobs — physically work at the base, about 10% of the base’s typical daily workforce. The remainder of employees have been teleworking.
Sherman declined to put a timeline on the first phase’s duration.
The commander said base leaders have tried to remain in “lockstep” with Ohio government and the wider community while still staying in contact with the base population. Base leaders typically host virtual weekly “town meetings” on Facebook to keep residents and workers updated.
“We keep a very open line of communication with our employees,” the commander said. “It’s not as if our employees are being kept out of the decisions.”
“Our teams are dialed in, across the board, both federally, they’re dialed in across the state, in regular communication with the Ohio Department of Health, and they have regular communication with GDAHA,” the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, Sherman also said.
He added: “It is a daily analysis of trends, capacities, supply, capability — all of those components that go into making a decision on how we would make a transition from one phase to the next.”
Telework will continue. Some people will continue working from home, before perhaps working a week on base, then working from home again for two weeks before returning, Wright-Patterson said in a recent release on the subject.
Base personnel are being told to continue practicing social distancing, wearing face coverings, handwashing, hygiene and sanitation of offices and other safety practices.
Staggered arrival, departure, lunch and break times will also be employed to cut down on crowding.
In-person meetings are to have fewer than 10 people. “In fact, the use of virtual meetings is encouraged when possible,” the base said.
In recent weeks, the base has closed three gates, leaving four open — gates 12A, which leads to Air Force Materiel Command headquarters, gate 19B, gate 26A and gate 1A, better known as the commissary gate.
That gate access will remain the same for now.
Sherman is aware that Ohio is launching its own phased reopening, with campgrounds slated to reopen May 21, gyms reopening May 26 and child care reopening May 31.
“What I can say is all of those are a part of discussions that we’re making as we’re moving forward as to what services we’re dialing up at any given time,” Sherman said. “All of those discussions are on the table.”
He added: “We have really been following a lot of the great information that’s been getting put out by the state of Ohio and Gov. (Mike) DeWine’s team. We’re staying in lockstep with a lot of those processes.”
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