Base braces against continuing pandemic, caps on-base footprint at 7,500 or fewer employees.
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base moved to health protection condition (HPCON) “Charlie” on Wednesday, a stiffer regimen of requirements against COVID-19, a virus whose Delta variant is raising case numbers and hospitalizations.
The status is in effect for the next 30 days and caps the physical presence of workers at 25% or less of the base’s pre-pandemic working population — no more than about 7,500 or fewer employees on base.
Pre-pandemic, about 30,000 people went to work at Wright-Patterson every day, most of them driving on base from surrounding communities.
“I will tell you this was not an easy decision for me,” Col. Patrick Miller, base installation commander, said Wednesday, adding that he and colleagues have watched hospitalizations and case numbers closely in recent weeks.
Those numbers drove him last Friday to reinstate the public health emergency, giving supervisors more flexibility in directing employees to “telework,” or work from home.
Miller said when he pushed the HPCON to “bravo-plus” last month from “bravo,” he actually saw more people coming on base, based on scans of driver’s licenses at the gates, an increase of an average of 10,000 additional scans a week when base workers had been expected to decrease their footprint across the installation.
“We were headed in the wrong direction, and our numbers were showing that,” Miller said.
“The goal is to push folks out, not bring folks in,” he added later in a Facebook meeting on the topic Wednesday afternoon.
Wednesday’s action was no surprise. Last Friday, Miller, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing, declared a public health emergency amid rising COVID-19 case numbers. Miller warned then that a return to HPCON Charlie was a distinct possibility.
Missions that require a physical presence cannot be paused, he acknowledged. But commanders need to figure out how to execute those missions safely, he also said.
As he has for months, the colonel urged listeners to consider getting a vaccine, revealing that recently Wright-Patterson lost a “teammate” who had not been vaccinated.
“This is very real; this is very serious,” Miller said.
The military base follows Department of Defense regulations, shifting to different “health protection conditions” when local COVID numbers warrant it.
The base restored HPCON bravo in the first week of August, just two months after a lull in cases had allowed the base to establish HPCON alpha. The move to bravo was an acknowledgement of the Delta variant’s deepening impact.
Then, on Aug. 18, the base moved to HPCON bravo-plus, a status pushing occupancy at the base to 40% of its typical working population, down from 50%.
Ohio reported 7,102 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, including a backlog of 1,021 cases from last month, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Without the backlogged cases, Ohio recorded 6,081 cases in the last day. It’s the first time the state has reported more than 6,000 daily cases since January, when Ohio was begin to recover from a winter surge.
Also Wednesday, the Montgomery County Board of Health issued a “call-to-action” for all employers, schools and health care services to require COVID-19 vaccinations for their workforces.
Public Health requires its employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 15.
“Vaccination is the single best available intervention to prevent COVID-19 disease, to decrease transmission, and to control the epidemic,” Montgomery County Health Commissioner Jeff Cooper said.
Vaccinations have been the foundation of public health strategy for more than 100 years, the health department said.
They are the “first and best step” in a multi-layered strategy to stop the spread of COVID-19, which includes the use of face masks and social distancing, the department said.