Fort Bragg works with state, local officials to prepare for coronavirus outbreak
By STEVE DEVANE | The Fayetteville Observer | Published: March 3, 2020
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Fort Bragg officials are planning for how the post would respond to an outbreak of the coronavirus in the area.
Other military officials in North Carolina also are monitoring the situation.
Representatives of Fort Bragg and Womack Army Medical Center are meeting with state and local officials in Harnett County on Tuesday to discuss the issue. The post and other military installations are executing plans to deal with the virus, according to defense officials.
The meeting is a "table-top exercise" that will include health, planning and emergency officials, according to a statement released by Fort Bragg officials.
"The goal of the exercise is to ensure the region is prepared to continue to minimize the coronavirus threat and to quickly and effectively work together to contain it if an outbreak happens," the statement said.
Tom McCollum, a Fort Bragg spokesman, said the meeting is common sense since an outbreak would affect the post and surrounding communities.
"It's going to affect all of us," he said. "We have to work together to protect the whole community."
McCollum said the effort also is designed to educate people about how to minimize the risk of catching the virus. A three-pronged approach will include medical officials, community leaders and individuals, he said.
"Without the work of all three of them, it's going to fail," he said.
Officials at the meeting will work in groups to identify issues, equipment needed, lines of communication, messaging, services availability, and treatment, according to the statement. At the end of the exercise, they will present the findings for further discussion and assignment of responsibilities, it said.
No soldiers or families members at Fort Bragg have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, which also is known as COVID-19. An outbreak of the disease started in China but has spread to numerous countries.
Patients with the virus have had mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Defense Department's website.
Six people in the United States have reportedly died from the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that a total of 43 cases have been reported, including 17 who were hospitalized.
No cases have been reported in North Carolina, according to the CDC.
Lt. Col. Matt DeVivo, a spokesman for the North Carolina National Guard, said the state's Air Guard and Army Guard have medics who can complement medical care by Department of Health and Human Services or emergency medical services medics.
"We stand ready to support, if called upon by the governor," DeVivo said.
There are currently about 2,000 members of the North Carolina National Guard deployed to areas of Iraq and Kuwait under the U.S. Central Command's authority.
Brig. Gen. Todd Hunt, North Carolina's adjutant general, has suspended international travel, DeVivo said. That includes Moldova and Botswana, the state's partner countries for peacekeeping operations.
"It's a precautionary measure, where international travel could pose more of a risk than staying here in the states," DeVivo said.
DeVivo said Guard officials are also reinforcing precautionary measures to fight germs.
Officials at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base are monitoring the coronavirus situation, according to a statement on the base's website. They are working closely with Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune and public health officials to reduce health risks and ensure the safety of those on the installation, it said.
"The safety of our service members, their family members, and our civilian employees remains the utmost concern," the statement said.
Defense Secretary Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the coronavirus at a news conference Monday that was broadcast by C-SPAN on its website.
Milley said that under Esper's direction, the Defense Department has standing plans to respond to an infectious disease outbreak.
"We are executing those plans at our bases and operating locations around the world," he said.
Esper said the top priority is protecting service members and their families. Defense officials also want to safeguard the ability to carry out the military's mission and support other government agencies, he said.
"We will continue to take all necessary precautions to ensure our people are safe and able to continue their very important mission," Esper said.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, sent a letter to Esper on Friday about the coronavirus.
"As a U.S. senator representing America's tip of the spear when it comes to global threats, I have questions about the current status of the DoD response and infection prevention efforts," wrote Tillis. "This global outbreak is concerning and presents an enduring and uncertain threat. The anxieties and concerns I am hearing from our service members and their families are justified."
Staff writer Rachael Riley contributed to this report.