Base Commander Capt. Matt Arny this week answered questions online about how Naval Air Station Whidbey is responding to the coronavirus outbreak.
He also talked about how the base’s response may change as the epidemic continues.
For two hours Wednesday, Arny live streamed a town hall meeting on Facebook. Questions were gathered from service members and their families prior to the town hall, and some questions were asked during the live stream.
As of Wednesday night, Arny said he was not closing down the base.
“Operational commands and fleet commanders need these squadrons to be ready to go out on their mission,” he said.
Arny said he has implemented measures to reduce the spread of the virus.
Arny said he weighs the requirements needed to reduce the strain on hospitals with “the operation requirements that we face to be the Navy the nation needs.”
“We need to reduce the number of people who are coming to work,” Arny said. “We need to reduce the critical people, but I’m not in a position to go mission-essential personnel at this time.”
Arny said closure of the base, “may come soon.”
The base is trying to increase the number of people who are working remotely. Some departments have completely transitioned to teleworking. Some who work on the base, security workers and air traffic controllers, for example, cannot telework.
“Who is mission critical today might not be mission critical a week from now,” Arny said. “We want that because we don’t want everyone to be mission critical.”
As of Wednesday night, Arny said the base tested 17 people for the virus, but no one tested positive for coronavirus.
If someone does test positive at NAS Whidbey, Arny said. base personnel and the public would be notified.
“It’s not gonna be right when we get the results from medical; there will be a little bit of time lapse,” he said. “There will be a public affairs release so that you will know when there is a positive.”
The base has an adequate supply of the coronavirus test kits available, but not an infinite supply, according to Capt. Steven Kewish, commander of Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor.
Kewish said the kits are being used judiciously,
“That is why we screen people, prior to testing them,” he said.
Kewish said COVID-19 is contagious at any point in its life cycle, “however it is most contagious when the symptoms are at their worst.” He advises people who think they may have the disease to stay home because “this disease is extremely contagious.”
“Going out in public thinking that you have this puts other people at risk,” he said.
He tells people who think they may have the disease to call the nurse advice line or WhidbeyHealth.
People who have difficulty breathing and think they are in an emergency situation should call 911, he said.
Kewish said the Naval Health Clinic is not set up to care for people with COVID-19, so most people will be sent home. But people with severe cases will be sent to in-patient care facilities such as WhidbeyHealth.
“There’s not a medicine that’s gonna fix it,” Arny said. “Your body has to fight it, and you have to come out of it.”
Arny advises personnel with vulnerable family members, who are worried about contracting the disease while working, to communicate their situation to their commanding officer.
Homecomings and deployments were still scheduled as of Wednesday night. But returning personnel who come from an area with a high number of COVID-19 cases, such as Italy or Japan, may be placed into a restriction of movement for 14 days.
The restriction of movement “is not a quarantine,” Arny said. “The important thing to understand is that they’re in a ROM status because they travelled from another country, not because they are symptomatic.”
As of Wednesday, the base has halted 141 permanent changes of stations, or the movement to another duty station. Family members in Hunt Housing who were expected to move, will have their leases covered, Arny said. If families have packed their household belongings, Arny recommended they contact Fleet Family Services for kits that contain essentials like air mattresses, pots and pans.
“Service members could take leave, but they have to stay within the local area,” Arny said. “Local area is kind of what we normally define as liberty limits.” He said each command defines liberty limits differently, but usually it is about a 250 to 300 mile radius. Any commanding officer could stop service members under their command from going, he said.
Arny said that the child development centers have seen about a 40 percent reduction in drop-offs so he said that he is not looking to close the development centers. But if there is a COVID-19 case detected in a child or care worker he said that might change.
“If you are a first responder or a health care worker on the installation and you need childcare services” Arny said, “please reach out to the child development center and child youth program staff so we can try to help you with that, because we need all of our first responders and health care workers ready to help us fight this battle on this front.”
The child development centers are taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the disease, such as extra sterilization, they are not self serving food, using electronic devices such as iPads and disposable cups are being used at the water fountain.
“There’s other things that, like the sandbox, the water play, all that stuff, those have been suspended.” Arny said.
The base commissary is still open for business, but the number of people allowed to enter the commissary at a time is restricted to 50. Children are not counted as part of that 50.
Arny recommends that people keep 14 days worth of supplies on hand just in case an earthquake occurs.
“If there was an earthquake, all these distribution channels that are being stressed would not be open,” he said.
Arny discourages hoarding products.
“We have had to take measures within the commissary to place limits on certain products,” he said.
“We are working to stay aligned with our community,” Arny said. “We are aligned in many ways throughout our public health staffs and through our emergency management staffs. The school district superintendent, the police chief, the mayor and I talk frequently and so we’ve got very good relationships that are very important.”
• To view the live stream in its entirety visit https://www.facebook.com/NASWhidbeyIsland/videos/3139460302785502