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19th AW Public Health initiative: COVID-19 C2 cell

  • Published
  • By Staff Reports
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Since March, when the effects of COVID-19 started to be felt in the United States, Little Rock Air Force Base's priority has been to protect the installation's service members, their families, DOD civilians and contractors, while continuing the mission of providing uninterrupted agile combat airlift around the world. 

From the onset of the pandemic, the central nerve center of LRAFB's efforts to navigate and operate within a COVID-19 environment has rested in the hands of one team: The Public Health Operations Center, better known locally as the PHOC.

The 19th Airlift Wing stood up the PHOC to serve as the primary command and control node for the installation amidst the ongoing Public Health Emergency.

The cross-functional team of medical professionals and representatives from the 19th AW collect medical, DOD, Air Force, state and local guidance, analyze it and then provide it to base leadership for course-of-action decision making.

Their work has been instrumental in executing preventative measures such as facility access screening, sanitization supply requisition and distribution, disinfection guidance, quarantine and isolation guidance, contact tracing, and public messaging, which has helped prevent the spread of the virus.

"Our overall mission is to develop, implement and standardize strategies and procedures across the installation to minimize the spread of the coronavirus," said Maj. (Dr.) Christyn Beal Randolph, the Public Health Emergency Officer. "Because we have an organized structure in place, we can confidently provide our decision-makers with recommended actions to take, where our mission as Little Rock Air Force Base, is still achievable and the risk of spreading infection is minimized as much as possible."

What is oftentimes the case during a crisis scenario, the overwhelming challenge the PHOC has sought to address is effective information dissemination in an environment where information changes so rapidly.

"The COVID environment is constantly evolving," said Capt. Meghan Dailey, the COVID cell medical director. "Without a centralized COVID focal point, you would never achieve order amidst the chaos. We realized early on that we needed a hub where information could funnel through and back out so that the entire installation was on the same page moving forward."

In addition to the successes achieved via the PHOC's uniformed communication strategy, LRAFB has also seen considerable success in flattening the curve because of the organization's forward-leaning approach concerning contact tracing.

Contact tracing is the methodical process that identifies potential close contacts during infectious periods, defined as 48 hours before symptom onset.  It's a process that has been used by health departments for years to help stop the spread of infectious diseases and avoid outbreaks.

Dailey said the PHOC has remained aggressive and proactive in their contact tracing efforts.

"Contact tracing is a crucial part of good public health," she said. "It enables us to determine where there might be an increased risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. That gives an early alert to people who may have been exposed so they can take precautions and not further spread the disease. This also gives our commanders the information they need to make educated and informed decisions to mitigate risk and preserve the health of the force."

The PHOC's concerted efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 has allowed the 19 AW to return 95% of the workforce to base with very limited impact, while keeping in telework status those that either meet or live with someone who meets CDC criteria for increased risk.

Moreover, they've enabled the wing's ability to sustain airlift mission capabilities throughout the pandemic, with the wing consistently achieving over 110% of pre-COVID flight training requirements.

"Little Rock Air Force Base has a big mission," Dailey said. "Bottom line, we exist to ensure that our installation is healthy and ready to execute airlift on our nation's behalf."

PHOC officials also added that by effectively managing the base population, they are directly contributing to the bigger picture fight against COVID-19.

"The lower we can keep our cases associated with the base, the lower Arkansas' death rate is going to be," Beal Randolph said. "By keeping a handle on our population, we're helping to mitigate the risk to the greater Arkansas populous from not only getting sick, but more importantly, from dying."

Col. John Schutte, the 19 AW and installation commander, said that LRAFB’s ability to survive, operate, and even thrive within the on-going pandemic is a testament to the consolidated operations center model created at the outset of the public health emergency. 

“We have settled in for the long fight against COVID-19,” Schutte said. “The PHOC serves as the central node for command and control as we manage risk to both mission and force.  All of Team Little Rock owes our PHOC workers a debt of gratitude as they work tirelessly to combat this invisible enemy.  Their efforts represent a best practice model for others to emulate, as we as a force, remain ready to answer our nation’s call.”